As Pakistan goes to the polls today (July 25) the country’s minorities – particularly Christians – have expressed dismay at their lack of representation among the candidates.
Minorities account for about five per cent of the population in Pakistan, but they remain absent from mainstream politics.
In the current political system there are two types of seats. General seats, which anyone can run for, but are predominantly held by Muslims and reserved seats, 60 for women and 10 for minorities such as Hindus and Christians, which ensure that they are represented in parliament.
In recent years the seats reserved for minorities have gone to wealthy Hindus who are able to give a huge amount of money to their political party, leaving Christians unrepresented.
Ex-parliamentarian, George Clement, explains, “All top positions are given to financially very strong Hindus. The Hindu and Sikh cultures are a lot more appealing to the Pakistani Muslim majority than that of the Christians. Hindus are also a lot better connected.”
Many Christians across Pakistan do not know who to vote for as there is no party who represents their interests.
Eighteen-year-old Waris will be voting for the first time. He registered with the help of his father and is looking forward to it, but he does not know who to vote for. “I want to have a good future,” Waris said. “A future where I am free to achieve my dreams, to study hard and get a good job. They need to make sure we have enough opportunities available to us.”
A Pakistani Christian leader told Open Doors, “Many Christians fear Imran Khan as the country’s leader. Khan is a former cricket player and leads Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He has said he wants to return to ‘jirga’, a traditional assembly of leaders that make decisions by consensus and according to the teachings of Pashtunwali. These non-written ethical codes predate modern laws and are a dangerous mix in combination with sharia, the strict Islamic law.”
Pakistani Christians are also worried that if a candidate was to speak up for their rights they may be assassinated like former federal minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, who wanted to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Since his assassination in March 2011, no male non-Muslim parliamentarian has spoken about the mistreatment of Christians, or the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
A young Christian woman who is a low paid brick kiln worker told Open Doors that she isn’t interested in the outcome of the elections, since “Nobody cares about us anyway.”
Pakistan is number five on the Open Doors World Watch List. Conversion from Islam brings great shame to family and community, and danger for the new believer. Radical Muslims monitor gatherings of converts. Historic churches have been subject to bomb attacks. All Christians suffer from institutionalised discrimination, with occupations that are seen as low, dirty and derogatory being officially reserved for Christians, most of whom are from the poorer classes. Radical Islamic groups, courted by political parties, the army and government, run thousands of schools capable of stirring up enmity towards religious minorities. Blasphemy laws target Christians in particular.