Minority rights NGO, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has carried out an analysis of political party manifestos, promises made and has examined party performances. The study has been based on empirical evidence from the elections held in 2008, 2013 and 2018.
The assessment comprises three parts including pledges, actions and performance of the parties. Manifestos from all three years for all seven parties (PPP, PTI, PML-N, PML-Q, MMA, ANP and MQM) have been taken into consideration. It is noted that PML-Q utilized the same manifesto from 2013 which was also being taken for 2018.
The analysis tracks the progress on the implementation of pre-election pledges, with the data collected by legislative watchdogs, and from the official website of the Federal and Provincial governments, moreover, the annual reports of the concerned ministries and departments. The study in specific reviewed the mainstream political parties’ commitments with regard to the protection of minorities and their empowerment.
Some of the main conclusions that came out from the study included that (a) the pledges did not match the urgency and gravity of issues being faced by religious minorities, b) Some of the pledges were considered inappropriate and potentially counterproductive and hence categorized as unreasonable in this analysis including; the proposition about the direct election on reserved seats for and the replacement of the term minority with “Non-Muslim” c) the pledges, seemed to incorporate non-issues. This may be because the parties may have found it challenging to address core issues of religious freedom and equality among citizens in the context of rising religious intolerance.
It was also noted that there was a lack of consistency in the pledges and a lack of follow-up on the pledges. Some of the pledges (approximately one-third) were common to all the parties’ manifestos including minority representation in ETPB, establishing a statutory Minority Commission, criminalizing forced conversions, reviewing curriculum, implementing job quotas and reviewing discriminatory laws.
CSJ observed that while the commonality should have helped parties make progress on these issues, a lack of delivery on these promises poses questions about the seriousness and level of importance attached to them.
Distinct pledges such as introducing an education quota, preventing misuse of blasphemy laws, representing of minority women in legislative assemblies and introducing of constitutional reforms, show that political parties in Pakistan can only dare to dream.
The report also concluded that the non-implementation of these promises especially when the parties are in power is reflective of weak resolve. Since 2008 the government has relied heavily on issuing executive notifications instead of passing legislation. It is because of this that the policy measures taken lacked an implementation mechanism and a strong legal basis. For instance, the failure of the policy of job quotas for minorities, etc. is attributable to this factor.
At the same time, while the volume of pledges focusing on socio-economic development in three election manifestos has increased, the charity approach dominated the policy measures. Political parties were seldom seen discussing or evaluating progress on their manifesto commitments except around the elections.
Factors that Impede Party Performance
The report noted that the performance of political parties is largely impacted by several impediments.
For instance, most parties rely on the allocation of charity and funds for minorities, as a primary approach to the fulfilment of rights. (Privileges that are being given to a limited number of people, cannot be taken as development for a large community).
The study noted that government funding is mostly marred by institutional and financial corruption. This is why it fails to address the marginalization of the people concerned.
The existing mechanism of fund dispersal at the federal and provincial levels lacks capacity including the minorities’ departments/divisions, Minority Advisory Council, Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony and ETPB, which need reassessment and realignment of roles. Their dysfunction in monitoring and response to perennial and new challenges creates liabilities for the government.
In one of the more important trends, the study noted that the political parties often also allowed themselves to take part in exhibitionist religiosity.
With a few exceptions, the political parties in power manifest a tendency to compete with one another in imposing religious orthodoxy, which the religious parties such as TLP, and ASWJ use to strengthen their hold on legislative assemblies, etc. through the use of religious symbols. Therefore, every little gain of the religious right is the loss of democracy, be this the addition of the ‘Kalma’ on buildings of the Lahore High Court and Punjab Assembly in 2021, or the imposition of compulsory teaching of Quran at the University level.
The study mentions that the political parties are also increasingly using language that depicts an intention to empower minorities but when in power, they rely on weak measures. As has been consistently witnessed in the case of minority job quotas and the establishment of an impartial National Commission for Minorities.
Two mainstream parties in governments in the Centre, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh promised to establish a statutory National Commission for Minorities, but it is yet to be set up. Likewise, a law is yet to be enacted to effectively implement job quota for minorities despite all three mainstream parties (PML-N, PPP and PTI) pledged to enforce minority job quota in government departments and institutions.
Even in parliament, parties appear to be reluctant to discuss minorities’ issues, relying on non-legislative means to introduce measures, which ultimately weakened the measures themselves.
The political parties did introduce some affirmative measures not promised as such in their own concerned manifesto but instead were pledged by their rival parties. For instance, two mainstream parties other than PTI promised educational quota for minority students in higher education. However, the provincial government of Punjab approved only 2% of seats.
The study concludes that pledges lacking in clarity of purpose to protect minorities against discrimination are bound to fail in implementation. For instance, two mainstream political parties that assumed power in the centre and provinces made a pledge to ensure the protection of minorities against “discrimination, hatred and inequality” through legislation, but failed to take concrete steps because the commitment itself was vague.
Recommendations include that the political agendas are partly dependent on people’s support for their implementation. The parties, despite their good intentions, will have to cultivate popular support on the issues impacting minorities’ well-being and equal status.