Saturday July 20, 2024

Call for inclusive electoral reforms, credible census

By Zia Ur Rehman
May 17, 2022

Minorities’ leaders and civil society activists at a consultative meeting on Monday strongly opposed any proposals for representation of faith communities on a parliamentary party, which, they believe, may deepen the religious divide or complicate the identity question as Pakistani.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a minority rights group, organised the consultative meeting on minority rights and political landscape in Karachi. The participants also appealed to the parliamentary committee formed for electoral reforms to remove discrimination and marginalisation on the basis of religion and gender in the election of representatives on reserved seats.

The meeting proposed that a system should be adopted to elect the nominees of the minority representatives as well as other categories of reserved seats in the party elections to make reserved seats more representative and effective.

Peter Jacob, CSJ’s executive director, observed that a separate electorate, introduced for religious communities in the early 1980s, did not allow them to vote beyond their religious identity.

“The separate mode of electorate created divisions among citizens on religious lines, and introduced apartheid in the political system between the religious communities,” he said. The mode of separate electorate was replaced with a system of proportional representation after a long struggle for a joint electorate in 2002, which allows the political parties to nominate minority representatives on the reserved seats for minorities and women, and allows the minority electorate to vote for candidates beyond their religious identity, Jacob said.

He noted that demanding the revival of a separate electorate for minorities was unacceptable, as it had created a religious divide in society. “On the other hand, proportional representation under a joint electorate is a better system, which has been proven an enabling factor to build ties among candidates and the electorate and help improve mainstreaming of minorities.”

Other participants, including the Sindh Commission on Status for Women’s chairperson Nuzhut Shirin, the Urban Resource Center’s Zahid Farooq, Jaipal Chhabria, a National Commission for Minorities member from Sindh, the Peace and Development Organisation’s Safina Javed, and the Human Rights Commision of Pakistan’s Sadia Baloch, agreed that the electoral reforms must be introduced to improve the capacity of the democratic institutions, and transparency in the democratic process.

They observed that the cabinets have to co-opt non-elected members from out of parliament as special advisors due to a lack of expertise among the elected members to run the business of the different government bodies as important as the finance ministry.

Since the incorporation of experts in the cabinets has been necessary, the scope of representation of technocrats in the national and provincial assemblies should be increased substantially (30 to 40 per cent of the total) which will help increase the value of reserved seats, they said.

The participants observed that the results of 2017 Census have been disputed by several stakeholders and are, therefore, not helpful for comparative analysis. The census results showed a considerable loss of religious diversity in Pakistan, which is lamentable, they said.

They emphasized that the trust in the next population census by the political parties and marginalised groups could only be built by proper preparations and participatory accountability to ensure an expeditious, transparent, and credible population census.

Representatives of the Peace and Development organisation, Search for Justice, Tehreek-e-Niswan, Sindh Commission on Status for Women, All Hindus Rights Organization and Sikh Sewa Society Pakistan attended the consultation and gave input on the subject.