Roadmap to inclusion

December 10, 2023

It is vital to ensure that religious minorities are not disenfranchised from democratic processes

Roadmap to inclusion


eparate electorates for religious minorities were abolished in 2002. Instead, a system of joint electorate was introduced.

In the four general elections held over the last 20 years, no non-Muslim candidate from the Punjab has won a general seat to become a member of the National or Provincial Assembly. This may be a reason behind the declining interest of minority groups, in the political process.

The Pakistan Peoples Party has nominated a Christian candidate, Naeem Yaqoob Gill, as its candidate for the upcoming general elections for the Punjab Assembly constituency PP-116, Faisalabad.

Earlier in the 2008 general elections, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) had given its ticket to Ms Catherine Nazeer for PP-225, Sahiwal. She was the first candidate from a religious minority to be nominated by a political party in a general election. However, she finished fourth with 1,706 votes.

Despite the record, Gill is determined to do well in the upcoming general elections. He says he will advance the struggle for the inclusion of religious minorities in the electoral process.

Many in the Christian community of Faisalabad consider the nomination of a Christian worker as a candidate for the Provincial Assembly an important step towards ensuring the inclusion of religious minorities in the political process.

Gill says his family has been associated with the PPP for three generations. He retired from a government job in Grade 18 a few years ago after working in various positions in civil administration. “The party has issued me a ticket considering my political affiliation and long experience in civil administration. There are a large number of Christian voters residing in this constituency,” he tells The News on Sunday.

He says that after he was picked as a candidate by the PPP, there was pressure on the other political parties to issue tickets to minority candidates. “With my nomination, my party has not only recognised the importance of the inclusion of religious minorities in the political process but has also provided an opportunity for Christian voters to choose their representative through a direct vote,” he says.

Gill says he is also in touch with the Muslim voters of his constituency and is running his election campaign beyond religious affiliation. “I am focusing on the basic problems of the people. There are many poor communities in this constituency where people do not have safe drinking water, sewers, and quality health and education facilities,” he says.

Gill says that it is necessary to abolish reserved seats to ensure effective representation of religious minorities in the legislative houses. He says that he supports the idea of double vote for voters belonging to minority groups. “In this way, the selection of representatives from religious minorities in the Provincial and National Assembly will be possible in a more transparent manner and religious minorities will be able to effectively account for representatives who do not perform well,” he says.

According to the voter lists released by the Election Commission of Pakistan on June 20, 2022, the total number of voters belonging to religious minorities in the Punjab is 1,641,835 (897,148 male and 744,687 female).

The number of voters belonging to religious minorities in Faisalabad is 180,986, (99,802 male and 81,184 female). Out of them, 84,986 voters reside in the City tehsil, 38,804 in Saddar tehsil, 22,220 in Sumandari tehsil, 21,434 in Jaranwala tehsil, 11,534 in Chak Jhumra tehsil and 2008 in Tandlianwala tehsil.

The significant number of non-Muslim voters in some constituencies means that a political party issuing its tickets to a candidate belonging to the religious minority can improve their participation in the political process and foster inclusion.

In the four general elections held over the last 20 years, no non-Muslim candidate from the Punjab has won a general seat to become a member of the National or Provincial Assembly.

On the other hand, many members of religious minority groups are not satisfied with the performance of the minority representatives ‘elected; on seats reserved for non-Muslims.

Yousaf Adnan, director of Care Foundation, Faisalabad, a non-governmental organisation that works for the awareness of the rights of religious minorities, says that if people from the Christian community approach them for assistance, they send them to that minority representatives.

“When those people go to the members of the assembly elected on seats reserved for minorities, they say that the party has nominated us. We have not become assembly members on account of your votes,” he says. “Due to these problems, there is a growing demand among religious minorities to abolish the joint electorate and restore the separate electorates,” he says.

Adnan says that the restoration of a separate electorates is not the solution to the problem because it requires minority candidates to campaign at the provincial or national level, which is very challenging.

“In the current system candidates for seats reserved for non-Muslims can be elected repeatedly without any meaningful performance. They only have to be close to the leadership of their political party,” he says.

He says that the political parties should instead be required to give five percent of the general seats tickets to candidates belonging to religious minorities. Else, there should be intra-party elections for nominations against reserved seats.

Khalil Tahir Sandhu, a former provincial minister from Faisalabad, who has been elected to the provincial assembly three consecutive times on a seat reserved for minorities in the Punjab Assembly, says that he personally favours political parties issuing tickets directly to the candidates belonging to minority groups.

“Mainstreaming religious minorities means giving them a chance to contest election directly instead of giving them reserved seats,” he says. He does not agree however that the representatives elected against reserved seats do not serve the people in their communities. “In 2015, as a member of the Provincial Assembly, I fixed a five percent quota for religious minorities in government jobs at the Punjab level. We also issued a notification that if eligible candidates for the posts reserved for minorities are not available, the posts will remain reserved for minorities,” he says.

He says that he also worked for amending the Punjab Service Rules so that the posts of sentry workers, sweepers, cleaners and cleaning staff were not advertised as ‘non-Muslim only’ as this was a violation of Article 27 of the constitution.

The record shows that in the last Punjab Assembly no legislative bill, resolution or privilege motion regarding problems unique to minorities in the Punjab was presented by the minority representatives.

Advocate Atif Jamil, a lawyer who works for human rights, says that the biggest problem of the minority representatives is that they are always reluctant to raise their voice for minorities. “Matters of family laws and forced conversions in the name of marriages are major issues for Punjab’s Christian community. However, these have never been discussed in the assembly,” he tells TNS.

Jamil says most political parties support the status quo. “This way, on one hand religious minorities can be kept out of the political process to please the extremists and on the other hand the government can claim that inclusion of minorities is being ensured,” he says.

“One of the reasons for not giving party tickets to non-Muslim candidates on general seats is the fear that Muslim voters may not vote for them,” he adds.

He says it may be a good idea to reserve one or more seats for non-Muslims in each division depending on their share of population. Constituencies with the highest population of minorities could then be reserved for their representation, i.e. to be contested only by candidates from that minority community.

“In this way, the system of a joint electorate can be preserved and religious minorities given the opportunity to directly participate in the election process and elect their representatives,“ he says.

The writer has been associated with journalism for the past decade. He tweets @ naeemahmad876

Roadmap to inclusion