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Pakistani minorities being denied Senate seats

By Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan
2/9/09 PAKISTAN (ANS) — Despite a promise by Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, the religious minorities have not been able to get “reserved” seats in the Senate, various minority groups have told the Pakistan based English newspaper, the Daily Times.

The paper said that Gilani had told officials at the Ministry of Minority Affairs on December 16, 2008 there would be five “reserved” seats for minority representatives in the Senate. However, representatives of the minorities that spoke to Daily Times said the matter was not taken seriously and no legislation was made.

“They claimed there was now no chance of religious minorities entering the Senate before 2012,” the Daily Times quoted them as saying.

The Senate of Pakistan has 100 members. Each provincial assembly elects 14 members of Senate, while also electing four women and four technocrats (one of whom is a religious scholar) each. Eight members are directly elected from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

“The remaining four members – two on general seats, one woman and one technocrat -are elected from the federal capital. Fifty senators will retire on March 11, 2009 after completing their six-year tenures,” the Daily Times said.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Secretary, Kanwar Dilshad, told the newspaper that the election for the 50 seats would be held on March 4. He said election would be held on 11 seats for each province, four for FATA and two seats for the federal capital.

“There are no reserved seats for religious minorities. The ECP would comply with any legislation made for minority representation. However, no such legislation is currently in place,” the Daily Times quoted ECP Secretary as saying.

Former Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee president, Sardar Bishan, Singh while talking to the Daily Times regretted that the minorities had no reserved seats in the Senate and demanded the PM fulfill his promise. He said minorities should be given reserved seats according to their percentage in the population.

“Religious minorities should be included in the quota for technocrats. All the assemblies had a 33 percent representation for women, but did not include women belonging to the minorities,” the newspaper quoted Singh as saying.

“Religious minorities feel isolated because the political system has not matured enough to maintain a secular stance for representation in the legislature, irrespective of caste, color or creed,” he said.

Pakistan Hindu Council General Secretary Hari Motwani told the Daily Times if the government made a legislation granting minorities reserved seats in the Senate, it would project a positive image of the country abroad.

Pakistan People’s Party Federal Council member Napoleon Qayyum told the Daily Times he was pressing the party for the allocation of reserved seats in the Senate.

“It is regrettable that minority members of the assemblies are silent on the issue. I have also asked Leader of the House in the Senate, Raza Rabbani, to ensure minority representation in the Upper House,” Qayyum told Daily Times.

Citing sources in the federal government the Daily Times story said parliamentarians were unwilling to pass a bill to the effect and had pressured the government to not table such a bill.

It quoted Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti as saying that a draft of a bill granting reserved seats in the Senate to minorities had been finalized and would soon be presented in the National Assembly.

“The PM had not specified a date for the reserved seats, and the minorities would be granted these seats in the 2012 Senate election,” Shahbaz Bhatti told the Daily Times.