National Assembly rejects bill that opens highest state offices to minorities

A Christian lawmaker presented the constitutional amendment to allow non-Muslims to be president and prime minister. Right-wing Islamic parties praise the rejection. For experts, minorities continue to be subordinate.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The National Assembly of Pakistan yesterday rejected a bill that would have given members of minorities the possibility of being elected to the highest offices of the state.

Naveed Aamir Jeeva, a Christian member of the Pakistan People's Party, presented the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019, which would have repealed Articles 41 and 91 of the Constitution, thus allowing non-Muslims to become prime minister and president of Pakistan.

Under Art 41, only a Muslim 45 years and older can be elected president. Art 91 states that the National Assembly will choose the prime minister from among "one of its Muslim members".

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad opposed the proposed legislation. He said that since Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, only a Muslim can be president and prime minister. At the same time, he noted that minorities enjoy complete freedom and security and that their rights are protected.

Standing next to him was Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, of the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami party, who praised the minister, adding that “no law against Islamic values and teachings can be passed, introduced or even debated in the parliament”.

According to experts, the rejection of the constitutional proposal is an attempt to keep the country's religious minorities in a subordinate position vis-à-vis Muslims.

In Pakistan, Islam is the majority religion (95-96 per cent), followed by Hinduism. Christians are about 1.6 per cent.

The members of minorities are restricted to the humblest jobs, like garbage collection, and are often the victims of discrimination and violence, especially over land. Minority girls and women are often victims of sexual abuse.