Ahead of the May general elections, a pamphlet was circulated in the constituency of Tharparkar in Sindh province warning Muslims against voting for an “infidel”. But what is worse is that no action was taken against the culprits, says I.A. Rehman, secretary-general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
While 10 seats out of the 342 in the National Assembly are reserved for non-Muslims, only one non-Muslim candidate was elected from the 272 general seats this time. After the euphoria over Pakistan’s first democratic transition settled, post-election analyses indicate problems for both women and religious minority voters that call for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to play a more enabling role.
HRCP’s report on Religious Minorities in Elections — “Equal in law, not in practice” — assessed the levels of respect for the political rights of religious minorities, especially as voters and candidates, said Mr. Rehman. The May general elections was the third since the abolition of separate electorates in 2002 and except for the Ahmediya community, everyone had equal rights to vote or seek election to general seats. For observation, the HRCP chose six constituencies with substantial minority vote — five across Mirpurkhas, Umarkot and Tharparkar districts in Sindh province and one in Lahore, Punjab province, which has a sizeable Christian population.
The HRCP said the main minority group in the three Sindh districts was Hindu, and both voters and candidates from the community faced discrimination. A large number of Hindus worked as daily wagers for feudal landlords and most followed their employer’s diktat. In one case, an influential candidate was found running his election office from a polling station.
When minority candidates contested on the ticket of mainstream political parties they polled many votes, but when they stood as independents, they got less than 100 votes. Affirmative action was needed by the government, the ECP and political parties to deal with the considerable prejudice, said Mr. Rehman.
The report said there were some positive outcomes — despite their failure to win a general seat in the National Assembly in the past elections, members of religious minorities continued to stand and in five constituencies in Sindh, there were 11 minority candidates in 2013 as against five in 2008. Majority community candidates who in the past did not seem to care for minority voters, had actively sought their votes and even asked them to manage campaigns in some cases.