Election not selection: Christians divided over electoral reforms

    The debate over filling minority seats in the provincial and national assemblies is raging among Christian circles ahead for general elections scheduled for 2023.

    “The fundamental principle of democracy is that people decide on policies through voting. The present system for minority representation is unjust and devoid of merit. Political parties keep that authority by themselves. We don’t consider the present non-Muslim parliamentarians as minority representatives. Sadly minority legislation has been repeatedly rejected,” Rwadari Tehreek Chairman Samson Salamat said while speaking in a Kross Konnection talk show.

    “It has made the political participation of our youth impotent. That chance lies in selection by political parties. Those already in parliament lobby and finance the blockage. Resultantly they are losing interest in politics,” he added.

    Minorities Alliance Pakistan Chairman Akmal Bhatti demanded dual vote for religious minorities and increasing their seats according to the population.

    “Linking minority population with foreign policy is a problem. It affects our census data as well. Delimitation will help in streamlining our community. In fact, 33 percent women’s seats should also be held by elected leaders. Constituencies should be as per voters’ strength at division level,” he said.

    “Instead of assessing this issue on the basis of performance, we should continue the debate on the basis of our democratic rights.”

    Minorities in Pakistan have repeatedly demanded the exclusion of discriminatory articles from the constitution that puts a bar on minorities from holding the offices of the prime minister as well as that of the president.

    In 1985, when 10 seats were allotted to religious minorities, the national parliament had only 210 seats, which meant religious minorities had some 5 percent of the seats.

    The demographics of Pakistan have changed much in the past four decades and in 2008, parliament increased its seats to 342. If a proportional 5 percent increase was considered, religious minorities should have been given 17 seats. But the minority seats were not increased.

    The national parliament currently has four Christian and six Hindu members.  Minority voters now account for 3.63 million or 3.5 percent of the 118 million voters in Pakistan, according to official records.

    Centre for Social Justice Director Peter Jacob defended the current system.

    “Some concerns of minorities have been addressed in the Punjab Local Government Act. Separate electoral lists, boxes, count and representation will bring us closer to a separate electorate and enhance religious discrimination and segregation,” he said.

    “Several outspoken Christian politicians have come through the current voting system. Examples include Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain Christian federal minister for minorities, and Asiya Nasir, a former Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan affiliated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F).”

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