Communities already living in fear suffer discrimination. Activists and politicians complain that whilst the number of seats in national and provincial assemblies has increased, reserved minority seats have not. Catholic bishops note that the current electoral system does not represent their communities. One lawmaker complains that her fellow parliamentarians are indifferent to the issue.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – 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".
Shunila Ruth, a member of the Punjab provincial assembly, said that representing minorities in parliament is a difficult challenge.
"The problems of minorities are raised only by non-Muslim parliamentarians, and we get almost no support, not only from the majority, but also from minority representatives. There is no coordination between us," Ruth said. "The same indifference is displayed by MPAs of our own party," she added.
“We are not allotted any constituency, and a provincial MPA caters to the whole province,” she explained. “Electoral or parliamentary rules do not even mention minority MPAs.”