By Mohsin Ilyas
The fact that Christian political leaders are primarily selected and not elected by the community adds to the feeling of being marginalized.
Pakistan, as a Muslim-majority country is believed to have a politcal system that is tilted to favour its conspicuous community and accommodate minorities to a lesser extent. The under-representation of minorities in the politics of Pakistan is an indicator in itself. People from minority groups, who try to take part in politics and want to join the realm usually find themselves helpless in the face of some structural discriminarion. They can command but a very minimal authority, with restricted powers and lack of space to raise voice for their community on a pertinent few issues.
Sajjad from Joseph colony, a potential candidate in the upcoming local government elections, spoke to Ravadar that he might be contesting for a General counselor but can only run a campaign on the behalf of his party from UC 23. He said he could only become a counselor if he contributes a good amount of money in the party funds. Further added that it is the same scenario for the provincial and national seats’ candidates. They are to pay a hefty amount for a seat.
‘Can’t run for a Counselor’
Sajjad says that there are many Christians who are well educated and experienced enough to qualify for the seat of the counselor. But unfortunately, they don’t have enough money which they could pay the party to get a ticket. “The idea of merit is seemingly compromised, this is among the many instances of discrimination we face for being Christians. Despite the training and degrees, we are turned down because we don’t have the resources to pay”, he remarks.
Political leaders from the minority communities face an unjust limitation when it comes to representing their community at a National or Provincial level – due to the selection system. The joint electorate system allowed minorities to vote on general seats and the leader of political parties is to nominate the minority members on those seats.
Sikandar Bhatti, a socio-political activist said that “Due to the selection system our minority leaders cannot do anything for the rights of the minorities in Pakistan. They cannot raise their voice for our rights in the administrative/legislative forums, and they can not possibly differ the party for the sake of community concerns.” Mr. Bhatti recalled how Kamran Michael was treated by his own party members when he invited Maryam Nawaz to Cathedral Church Lahore and things did not go as they had been planned.
The same is the case with Sajjid Ishaqa, a former Christian Leader from the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI). He was called a derogatory term ‘Choorrha’ by his own political comrades. One can only imagine the kind of social exclusion such an attitude could bring for an individual. These are just a few of the examples when it comes to the degree of discrimination which the Christian political leaders are to put up with. Ostensibly it is because of their religious identity.
Sajjad further told Ravadar that leaders like Shehbaz Bhatti who dared to raise voices despite being selected were strongly silenced. He mentioned that when the word ‘Selected’ was used for the Prime Minister Imran Khan in the National Assembly the speaker of the assembly considered that as a disrespect to the entire national assembly. “However, on the other hand in the same National Assembly there were 10 minority political leaders who came through the selected process, isn’t it disrespectful to the entire Christian community in the country?”
Another respondent shares that the problem starts from the census when the numbers of minority members living in the country are not accurately mentioned. “Without a proper census, how can the issue be adequately addressed and a reasonable representation of the minorities be ensured?”, Shakeel poses a question. An election system for shortlisting the members of minorities should be implemented so that they could have better opportunities to represent their marginalized communities in the governmental bodies of governance.
Michael, a Christian political worker from Islamabad mentioned that the founder of the Nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah guaranteed protection for the rights of minorities which has been long forgotten, and conversely a constant change in the country’s policies is occurring. It happens to the extent that the minorities have hardly any chances to politically progress.
Pakistan needs a proper and fairly representative system of election for the minorities. The discrimination can be redressed when the governmental systems would work properly on the census system. Minority protection of rights community could also be formed to help highlight the problem. The percentage of minority representation would enter the discussion afterward and might bargain for more seats in provincial and national assemblies which could be offered through a proper election. They deserve to be equally treated as the other citizens of Pakistan.