Since the inception of the country, confusion has surrounded the issue of the electoral system for minorities. The present practice is of having selected or reserved seats for minorities among the winning political parties but this has not reaped benefits for the representative communities and calls are growing for a more equitable and representational system.
Elected candidates on reserved seats are loyal, if not beholden, to the political party they belong to and are least concerned about their community as they have not come through the power of their vote. Besides, they are bound by their party’s decision on any matter even if they have to ignore their own community’s concerns. Hence, minority parliamentarians cannot raise their voice or exert pressure on the ruling party or government for the well-being of their community, laments Siddique John of Minority Rights Watch based in Lahore.
However, lately, there have been some positive developments in this context. Aamir Naveed Jiva, Member National Assembly of the Pakistan Peoples Party, recently presented a bill to increase minority seats in the national and provincial assemblies. He informed that the reserved seats for women and general seats in both the national and provincial legislatures have been increased twice since being introduced but the number of minority seats has remained the same.
At present, there are 60 reserved seats for women but the minority seats continue to stand at 10, despite a recorded increase in the minority population of the country.
South Asia Women Alliance (SAWA) Member Shireen Aslam claims there are 42 constituencies — both national and provincial — where the minority population is between 10 to 50 per cent and suggests that the Election Commission of Pakistan must bind political parties to field representatives of minorities from general seats in these areas. “This way the minorities may come into mainstream [through the power of vote],” she added. Aslam also contends that there must be reserved seats in the assemblies for people of marginalised communities such as disabled and transgender persons as well.
Terming the current system of proportional representation of minorities in Parliament completely un-democratic, Samson Salamat, director of the Centre for Human Rights Education, says the ‘selected’ lawmaker will only vote and talk in favour of his/her party and not the community. He added that it is time for minorities to boycott the current system and demand an effective representation where they can exercise their right to elect their own representatives. Voicing similar sentiments, high court advocate and Pakistan Christian Movement Chairman Riaz Anjum said, “Only slaves and foreigners have no right to vote or take part in elections.”