Lahore: Human rights defenders, political activists, and representative of civil society organization have demanded the elimination of minority wing from political parties. According to the activists minority wings impede the prospect of full representation of religious minorities in mainstream politics.
Pakistan is a Muslim majority country. Roughly four per cent of its population is non-Muslim. Sunnis make the majority of the population, while Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis and other small groups form a minority.
Dogmatic religious groups generally view minorities sceptically and often associate them with foreign elements. After attacking the All Saints Church in Peshawar, the militant faction Jundullah claimed: “They are the enemies of Islam; therefore we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”
The political parties, toeing in the line of state have restricted the movements of minorities within a particular sphere by making minority wings. With the exception of few, nearly every political party in Pakistan has a Minority Wing. Minorities are often reported to say that such structuring in the parties have excluded them from participating in mainstream politics by limiting their role as a minority.
The downside of the Minority Wings is that even if non-Muslims join political parties, their efforts notwithstanding their qualifications, capabilities, and services to the nation, remain confined to the minority roles.
Since the inception of Pakistan in 1947 to up until 1984, all Pakistanis voted in a joint electorate.
In 1985, military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, introduced separate electorate for all religious minorities, including Ahmadis. Minorities were required to declare themselves non-Muslims to vote for the five per cent minority seats of National Assembly.
In 2001, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIR) demanded an end to discrimination of minorities in Pakistan. As the international pressure mounted, General Pervez Musharraf reintroduced joint electorate in January 2002 with no segregation for Ahmadies, and they were also allowed to enjoy equal voting rights. But the pressure of the religious hardliner prevailed upon the president, and he accepted their demand of allowing the Christian, Hindu and other minorities to vote in the joint electorate, but created a supplementary voter list only for the Ahmadis.
The Constitution’s Article 51(2A) provides ten reserved seats for religious minorities in the National Assembly, and 23 seats for minorities in the four provincial assemblies under Article 106. The political parties are given reserved seats proportional to their numerical strength in parliament and lawmakers are elected according to the order of the list provided by the party.
Experts are of the opinion that Representation of the People Act of 1976 and rules under the Election Commission need to be amended to bring religious minorities into the national mainstream.
Khalil Tahir Sandhu currently serving as Provincial Minister for Human Rights in Punjab Assembly, in his conversation with Truth Tracker said that he was personally against Minority Wings and demanded that representatives of the minorities should be given parity tickets just like other candidates and allowed to contest the election.
“Here we are talking about two amendments. One will be made in the Constitution of Pakistan to get away with the reserved seat for minorities. Two, the Political Parties Act of Pakistan would have to be amended to allow minorities to contest elections on party tickets,” Sandhu said.
Shanila Ruth, President of Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaaf Minority Wing, however, has a different take on this subject. She believes that minority wings within political parties are necessary for Pakistan because of the very fact that minorities are still a vulnerable group and lacks influential representatives.
“If minorities are merged in the mother party, they will lose their identity altogether. The vulnerability of the minorities demand that Minority Wings are maintained in parties, unless they gain both political and social strength the members of minorities should not demand dismemberment of these wings,’ Ruth said.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan leader, Farooq Sattar says that his party has committed to the Christian People’s Alliance to disband minority wing from MQM. However, Sattar said that without offering an alternative of the Minority Wing eliminating it would only add to the identity crisis of the minorities.
“For the complete restoration of the status of minorities, the political parties have to give the membership of the Central Coordination Committees to the members of minorities and allowing them to contest elections on general seats from party tickets.”
He further said that the term “minorities” should also be abolished from the constitution.
Pakistan People’s Party’s MPA, Sharmila Farooqi, said that the Minority Wing helped giving voice to minorities.
“I believe that this wing should not be abolished because it makes the minorities more compelling in the sense that they work in unison among themselves that makes easier for them to get their concerns resolved or issues addressed”
Samson Simon Sharaf, the political analyst, and columnist in The Nation, Lahore, gave the following viewpoint on Minority Wings in political parties, in his conversation with Truth Tracker.
“I am against Minority Wings in political parties. It does not help anyone from the minority to blend with the Muslims of Pakistan. It excludes them. It is also counter to the spirit of the joint electorate system of Pakistan. So if we have a joint electorate, we should also struggle to learn to value the votes of the minorities. The vote of non-Muslim Pakistani matters. Minorities have the capacity of swinging election results in at least 78 constituencies of Pakistan. The most recent example is the results of PPP in PS 114 elections in Karachi, which had over 35,000 Christian votes. And because PPP appears to take a secular stance and Bilawal spoke to the Christian voters the PPP was able to take away votes, which was previously gained by the PTI in 2013. This is the power of Pakistani minorities. But to persuade political parties to eliminate Minority Wings, the community will have to raise its level and decide not to be swayed by personal interests.