The controversy has its roots in a 2002 law, imposed by general Pervez Musharraf, a former president, that required candidates for office to hold a bachelor's degree or its equivalent.

Musharraf said he imposed the law to improve the calibre of MPs, but critics alleged the move was designed to sideline certain opponents.

Pakistan's supreme court struck down the degree requirement in April 2008, but not before Musharraf allowed elections to proceed in February of that year.

Angry reaction

Some politicans reacted angrily to the news that their credentials were to be investigated.

"A degree is a degree! Whether fake or genuine, it's a degree! It makes no difference!" Nawab Aslam Raisani, the chief minister from Baluchistan province who claims to have a master's degree in political science, shouted at reporters.

"Nations have to sacrifice some individuals in the process of becoming great, so we should not be scared of the situation we're facing now"

Abid Sher Ali, chairman of National Assembly education committee

But the chairman of the National Assembly's education committee said that if elections are needed to sort out the reprecussions from the scandal in could, in fact, strengthen parliament. 

"This is a process which will make us a great nation," Abid Sher Ali, who holds a master's degree in business and finance, said.

"Nations have to sacrifice some individuals in the process of becoming great, so we should not be scared of the situation we're facing now."

Many of the potentially fake degrees seem to have been claimed from Islamic seminaries, whose degrees are considered equivalent to a bachelor's in Pakistan.

Earlier this year, Jamshed Dasti, a member of the National Assembly, resigned after being unable to prove that he held a master's degrees in Islamic studies.

Media reports at the time said that he could not even name the first two chapters of the Quran.

Dasti then ran in a special election for the office he had just vacated, and won. 

Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, has also faced questions about his qualifications.

He claims to hold a bachelor's degree from a business school in London but his party has been unable to produce a certificate or establish what he studied.

Zardari, however, will probably escape the scandal because he was elected after the degree requirement was struck down by the supreme court.

Critics said that the law was undemocratic because only 50 per cent of adults in the country of 180 million people are literate.

Traditionally, feudal ties or business success have more appeal in Pakistani politics than academic achievement.