28 February 2023
By Rehan Piracha
Members of the minority community have voiced their demand for dual-voting rights to allow them to directly elect their representatives on reserved seats. However human rights activists point out that this would only mark the return of a separate electorate.
Currently, members of the minority community vote for a general candidate in their provincial and national assembly constituency while legislators on minority-reserved seats are indirectly elected through a proportional system, based on nominations from political parties winning general seats.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Akram Bhatti, chairperson of the Minority Alliance of Pakistan, said that citizens from minority communities have a constitutional right to exercise their right to vote to elect their representatives.
“Many countries including Australia, Germany, Romania, and Thailand have given dual voting rights to citizens from minority communities so that they can directly elect their representatives on reserved seats,” he said, adding that unfortunately, Pakistan had denied this right to its minorities.
In his view, present minority legislators, including MPAs and MNAs, have only toed party lines, ignoring the problems and issues faced by members of minority communities.
According to Minority Alliance, the delimitation of constituencies for direct election of minority-reserved seats would not pose any administrative problem.
Akram Bhatti said members of minority communities should be allowed to direct elect their representatives on basis of a provincial division comprising several districts which would serve as a single constituency.
In the case of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the minority population is comparatively less than in Punjab and Sindh, two divisions can be clubbed as a single constituency, he explained. “Legislators elected directly by the minority population would be more attuned and attentive to their voters’ needs,” he added.
Akram Bhatti said all minority communities including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Scheduled Castes, and Kalashis, were dissatisfied with the present process of election of minority legislators.
The Minority Alliance of Pakistan and other minority groups have been holding consultations with mainstream political parties for bringing a constitutional amendment to the grant of dual-voting rights to members of minority communities, facilitating the direct election of candidates on seats reserved for minorities in the country.
Akram Bhatti called on the federal government and political parties including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Peoples Party Pakistan, Pakistan Tehrik Insaf, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement to build consensus on granting dual-voting rights to members of minority communities.
The alliance recently held a demonstration outside Peshawar Press Club in support of their demand for the direct election of minority legislators on reserved seats.
Dual-voting rights for minorities a return to separate electorate: Peter Jacob
However, minority rights activists have pointed out that dual-voting rights were reminiscent of the past separate electorate imposed in the country. Peter Jacob, Executive Director of Centre for Social Justice, told Voicepk.net that people have been led to believe that a legislator sharing the faith of a community could better safeguard the interests of that community. He said the proposal of direct elections on minority seats would lead to division and weaken political say of minority communities.
“The proposal for direct election on seats reserved for minority communities would encounter complications in terms of allocation of seats and delimitation of the constituency for each community of the minorities,” Peter Jacob. He said the mere direct election would not be an effective strategy to make representatives answerable to minority communities. Minority MPAs and MNAs were still bound by party discipline and political parties have to consider the interests and problems of their voters from the minority communities, he added.