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Friday, 26 July 2013

Strengthening Pakistan’s Democracy by inclusion of Women and Minorities in the Election Process.

The Bhatti brothers could learn a trick or two from this astute American humanitarian.  Victor Gill has led several Washington protests and has been a constant thorn to the Pakistan Embassy in the US with his petitioning and letter writing.  He has used every possible means to highlight the plight of Pakistani Christians and has endeared our global community towards him.  His description of the need for a single electorate and the paradigm he proposes, could easily work in tandem with the BPCA's own model.  Like us his single electorate proposal is in juxtaposition to the Peter and Paul Bhatti methodology, that implies return to a dual voting system.  Please do take time to read this well researched article:

Strengthening Pakistan’s Democracy by inclusion of Women and Minorities in the Election Process;

[Seventy Reserved seats of Pakistan’s Parliament are Hand-picked]                                                        
                                      By Victor Gill – Edited July 25, 2013

Pakistan is made up of 5% of religious minorities and 95% of Muslim majority, out of which 51% of the population of the country are women. Ironically 60 reserved seats of women and ten reserved seats of minorities are not filled in a democratic manner but are hand-picked.

The word “minority” is not defined by numbers alone, but by the condition of being weak, being less privileged, being deprived and being oppressed. For example, the Shia population of Iraq, though more [populous] in numbers, was made to be a minority during the time of Saddam Hussein. The Jewish population, though small in numbers in the United States, has rarely called itself a minority. Hence, the word ‘minority’ is a state of being weak, less privileged, deprived and being oppressed. For that reason, the 51% of women of Pakistan are also a ‘minority’ in the true sense of the word.

In fair and fortunate democracies, all citizens are protected and treated equal before the rule of law.  In a society shaped by giving precedence to the laws of the land, there is no need to have the reserved seats for them in any institution. In Pakistan, however, the ten reserved seats for minority parliamentarians and the sixty reserved seats for women parliamentarians, along with other quota system in various institutions, further corroborate the assertion that both women and non-Muslim population of Pakistan are a minority. The constitution deems them to be equal but the government of Pakistan, by allocating the reserved seats, implicitly admits that both the women and non-Muslim minorities are unequal, weak, less privileged, deprived and oppressed.

Let us look at the selection system for reserved seats in our parliament.  It is common knowledge that various political parties compete for 272 seats in the general elections.  The proportion of each party’s win, determines each party’s share in selecting the women and religious minority members to the remaining 70 seats.

This setup contains several intrinsic ills and problems:

1.       Subservient Parliamentarians: Parliamentarians on reserved seats have their loyalties to the nominating political parties and not to the voters, because voters never participate in their election process. When their constituents approach them on issues of concern, they are told outright, “You did not vote for me, why you are bringing this problem to me?” With extenuated vote power, both the women and religious minority parliamentarians are there to obey their “master’s voice,” and that is, the dominant political parties.Many federal ministers like Anusha Khan, Kamran Michael and late Shahbaz Bhatti, did not get even a single vote in elections and yet became not only parliamentarians, but also federal ministers – quite a laughing stock, isn’t it?

2.       Blackmailing and other corrupt practices are the norm.  The highest bidder may get the seat, or the seat may be given to a relative or friend as pay off for a favor, or, more forebodingly, some women allegedly even ensure their seats by becoming mistresses or girlfriends to the stake holders.  Undated and notarized resignations are often obtained in advance to solicit ‘loyalties by coercion and blackmailing.’

3.       Unfair Distribution of Seats:  There are 10 reserved seats allotted to religious minorities. Hindus and Christians are about equal in population. Out of 10 seats, Christians only occupy 3 at present; Hindus have the other 7.  In the upper house, the Senate, there are 4 reserved seats for religious minorities:  A Christian was selected on one and Hindus on the remaining three. What a ‘constitutional flip’ that should have raised a red flag for a ‘suo moto action’ by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

4.       The beneficiaries of the reserved seats are given the impression upfront that they wouldn’t have won a general election, hence tagging them with failure without any empirical results.  What would one say when a student is given a label of ‘failure’ before he or she ever starts his school or takes an exam?

I must caution you that if we continue to fill the minority and women seats under the present selection system; the minority-majority gap and the gender-gap will remain there even after another century, because we are not encouraging our weak, less privileged, deprived and oppressed class of population to have courage and confidence to participate in the general elections with self-esteem. In fact, the selection system kills the very purpose of inclusion of women and minorities in the parliament. It is a shame and an insult to the intelligence of seventy parliamentarians.
Pakistan is the only country where 20% (70 out of 342) of its parliamentarians are chosen without a single vote.

Reserved seats were supposed to be an election-learning-process as well as an inclusion of the weak communities into the main stream politics. An honorable and acceptable method of choosing religious minorities and women should allow such candidates to contest in general elections, with or without the party lines, in any constituency, and under joint electoral vote of the general elections. The results of reserved seats in elections will be compared against the results of other reserved seats, and the top 10 or the top 60 in women’s case, will be declared ELECTED. In this way, we’ll establish public vote and not personal favors, as criteria to winning a reserved seat. The only thing the government needs to do is to ensure the distribution of these seats to areas according to respective population size of both women and the minorities.

Public service is a sacred trust between the ELECTED official and the general public.  A competent official who upholds the public trust can only be procured by direct election, and not with the patronage selection system. 
It is about time that these twenty percent reserved seats be given, not as political favors to yes-men, high bidders, or the most physically attractive women, but to individuals who have earned them through a fair and competitive election.  In democratic governments, a vote is the most basic unit--and a proven parameter--of a truly democratic society.

Victor V Gill of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania can be reached at Portions of this article were read by Salma Peter John at Washington, DC on the 20th Annual gathering of Pakistani American Congress on June 18, 2012.

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