Pakistan: Complicated electoral system makes life miserable for minorities

KARACHI: Despite thunders and lighting by successive governments, there was no downpour for the religious minorities in Pakistan. They are not yet given the dual voting rights nor can they elect their own representatives.

According to the Constitution of Pakistan, only Muslim leaders of mainstream political parties can decide the fate of non-Muslim representatives in the assemblies, not the 2.78 million registered non-Muslim voters.

The assembly members on minority seats are “selected” after taking huge funds in the name of party funds, hence, only the well-off members billionaire enter the upper and lower houses, and not the ones who really intend to do something for their community.

Besides Hindus, the biggest religious minority community in the province, there are Christians (Roman Catholic and Protestants), Parsis, Sikhs, Ahmedis and even Bahais living in Sindh, but only the Hindus have representation in the provincial house.

According to the official data of the Election Commission of Pakistan, all the religious minorities constitute 2.78 million registered voters in Pakistan. Of them, 1.4 million are Hindus, followed by 1.24 million Christians, 115,966 Ahmedis, 5,934 Sikhs, 3,650 Parsis, 1,452 Buddhists and 809 Jews.

They all can contest elections on general seats, and can vote for Muslim candidates on general seats. But they cannot vote to their own minority candidates, which are supposed to represent them in the assemblies.

Though it was announced numerous times by the governments that religious minorities of Pakistan would be given right to dual vote, such right was not given in its letter and spirit. During the former dictator Zia ul Haq’s military regime, minorities could vote only to elect their own representatives, and not the Muslim candidates. In 1995, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto promised to give dual vote to religious minorities, but to no avail. Later, the former dictator General (retd) Pervez Musharraf in 2000, issued this right to religious minority, but they could only use their one vote for general seats, not their own candidates.

Their seats were converted into “reserved seats”-just like reserved seats for women. And the right to select who will represent minorities in the assembly was given to the political parties, not the minority voters.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari also made several promises, but again the promises were not fulfilled. Despite several announcements, the PPP government has made no changes in that system. Now religious minorities can contest elections on general seats like Muslim candidates, but for their own seats, there is no election and political parties are selecting them.

Under that system, a simple formula is made. Out of the total 342 seats in the National Assembly, the direct elections are held on 272 seats, while the rest of the members come on reserved seats. Under that formula, the 272 are divided by the numbers of the seats reserved for minorities, which means 272 is divided by the 10 reserved seats for minorities. Hence, any party winning 27.2 general seats gets one minority seat. These seats are allocated to the parties in accordance with their priority list submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan. This means, one portion of the democratic assemblies is comprised on people’s representatives (the Muslim assembly members) as they get elected by the direct voting, whereas others, the women and minorities, are not elected by people, but are selected by the Muslim leadership of the mainstream political parties. Hence, the element of corruption enters into the “selection” of minority members. Anyone who wants to ensure his or her entry into the assemblies, he pays huge amounts to party leaders to get into the “priority list’ for minorities.

This “selection” process in fact is harming the community members. The so-called representatives, rather than working for the welfare of their communities’ and/or making legislation, get busy in minting money.

In such conditions, the basic issues faced by Hindus, which is biggest religious minority of the country, such as forced conversion, kidnapping for ransom, kidnapping of young Hindu girls and forced conversions, marriage act, family law, lack of the development schemes, jobs in public sector and discrimination on the basis of their religion always remain unsolved, despite of presence of members in the assemblies on their names. It happened with the Christians who face insecurity, allegations of blasphemy and other issues.

From 2008-2013, in the National Assembly (NA) and four provincial assemblies, there were 33 reserved seats for minorities (10 in NA, nine in Sindh, eight in Punjab three each in K-P Assembly, and Balochistan Assembly) members, out of which Hindus being the biggest minority got 19 seats and among those 19, 18 were allotted to businessmen from upper caste Hindus.

“There shouldn’t be any reserved seats. We demand to have “special seats” for minorities, and all small minorities should be combined together to make special seats for, which should be made conditional with direct elections. This means that candidates must get votes to be eligible for the seats,” said Sardar Ramesh Singh, Chairman of the Pakistan Sikh Council. amar guriro


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