ICC Note: Pakistani Christians remain politically marginalized as the country prepares for national elections later this month. In the upcoming elections, not a single Christian has been nominated to run for office by any party. Christians have several seats reserved for their community in Pakistan’s legislative bodies, but these seats are filled by party appointment, not direct election. This causes the Christians who fill these seats to have greater loyalty to their political party than the minority community they represent.
07/07/2018 Pakistan (World Watch Monitor) – As Pakistan prepares for elections later this month, the country’s minorities – particularly its Christians – have expressed dismay at their lack of representation among the candidates.
Among the thousands of candidates contesting hundreds of provincial and national constituencies across the country, not a single Christian is nominated by any party – from the ultra-right to the liberal left.
In the 210-million-strong nation, minorities account for about 5 per cent of the population, but they remain absent from mainstream politics, with the country’s constitution even encouraging segregation between Muslims and non-Muslims in the political arena.
The current political system dictates that there are two types of seats: general seats, which are directly elected and which anyone can contest, but which in reality usually only Muslims win; and reserved seats for women and minorities, which are nominated by the party and filled according to the number of general seats won (proportional representation).
Created in 1956, Pakistan’s first constitution initially barred non-Muslims from becoming president. Then in 2010, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – led by the Bhutto family and considered a liberal party – brought the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which added a further block to minorities: also prohibiting non-Muslims from becoming prime minister.
Until 2002, minorities were only able to vote for their coreligionists for the seats reserved for religious minorities in the provincial and national assemblies (ten in the National Assembly; eight in the Punjab Assembly; nine in Sindh; and three each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan).
Gian Chand, a Hindu senator, told World Watch Monitor that, before then, the minority parliamentarians who came through the segregated electoral system had little influence, as Muslims controlled the government. “Also, parliamentarians on general seats did not concern themselves with religious minorities in their neighborhoods because they did not need their votes,” he said.
The military dictator General Pervez Musharraf in 2002 introduced the joint electoral system, which allowed minorities to vote on and contest general seats. However, the reserved seats for minorities were kept, in part in recognition of the unlikelihood that a minority candidate would win on a general seat.
But these minority seats were not to be filled through elections but allotted to each political party proportionate to the total general seats gained. So, in the National Assembly, it is expected that out of ten reserved seats for minorities, three major political parties will get two to three seats each.
In practice, the system has proved much more beneficial to the Hindu minority than to the Christian minority. Despite both having around the same share of the total population, Christians have half as many seats due to the Hindu minority’s longstanding involvement in politics and greater share of wealth and connections to political parties.
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