Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan claim they are being increasingly underrepresented in their country’s legislative bodies. Despite increases in the country’s legislative bodies’ size the number of seats set aside for religious minorities have stayed the same. To top this off, Christians and other religious minorities are unable to directly elect their representatives. Instead, these “representatives” of their communities are appointed by the majority party. Will Pakistan change this so religious minorities can have a greater voice?
11/23/2017 Pakistan (Asia News) – Pakistan’s religious minorities are increasingly underrepresented in the country’s legislative bodies. Even though the total number of seats has increased, the number of reserved minority seats has remained the same since 1985.
Christian and Muslim activists and parliamentarians raised the issue yesterday in Lahore at a seminar on ‘Shrinking political space for minorities’.
Speakers shared their views on the role of media, civil society, education and political system in protecting the rights of religious minorities who make up less than four per cent of the country’s 220 million residents.
“With the increase in population, the Pakistan government increased the seats of national and provincial assemblies in 2002 but no efforts have been made to increase minority parliamentarians. Even reserved seats for women in legislative bodies went up,” said Sarwar Bari, a Muslim and National Coordinator at the Pattan Development Organisation. “This is discrimination and an injustice against communities already living in fear,” he explained.
For the Catholic Church, minority representation is a source of great concern. In 1985, ten seats out of 237were reserved for non-Muslims in the National Assembly. This remained unchanged in 2002 when dictator Pervez Musharraf increased the number to 342.
“Unfortunately, their representation has diminished in all four provincial assemblies,” Bari added.
Since the 2002 expansion, the number of non-Muslim lawmakers has remained the same. It was 8 seats out of 248 in Punjab, 9 out of 109 in Sindh, 3 out of 43 in Balochistan, and 3 out of 83 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now Punjab has 371 seats; Sindh, 168; Balochistan, 65; and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 124.
In a statement released this month, Pakistan’s Catholic bishops criticised the existing joint electoral system, in which Muslim political parties select minority parliamentarians via a proportional system.
For the bishops, the current electoral system “does not represent the community, and so we urge the government to create a just and fair system”.