November issue 2002
Friends in Need
Following the Musharraf government’s decision to hold the October 2002 elections under a system of joint electorates, political parties and their candidates left no stone unturned to woo the minority vote. Shantinagar, a small village which was razed to the ground and looted by a band of Muslim hooligans on February 6, 1977, suddenly became a campaigning hotspot, if only for selfish reasons — Shantinagar had a vote bank of 6,000 people. The village, just 11 kilometers from Khanewal city, and home to several ex-MPAs and MNAs, had hitherto never managed to have its voice heard or any of its burning issues addressed. The system of joint electorates, however, overturned this scenario: suddely, every aspiring politician waxed loud and passionate on how he or she would be different.
According to George Mehboob, a Christian district councillor, Omar Daraz of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, contesting from PS 254, visited Chak 5/4-L, Rangpur, Muzaffargarh (a Christian village of District Muzaffargarh) to speak with the people of the area. This led to a frank discussion regarding the problems of the minorities, especially the unfair application of blasphemy laws. Mr. Shahid Johnson, a Christian schoolteacher from Muzaffargarh, maintained that apart from the MMA, representatives of almost all political parties had visited the Christian community in order to solicit their support. Some Muslim leaders even ate and drank with Christians — something which they had never done before. This turnaround in their political fortunes has been accepted at face value by the community with Mr. Mohan Prakash, a Hindu district councillor from Hyderabad, expressing his elation at the minority communities finally being noticed as a result of the promulgation of joint electorates.
The minority communities contested elections at two levels — the general seats and the reserved seats for women. On the general seats, there were two categories of contestants: the party ticket holders and the independent candidates. However, it was only the PPPP, Awami Tehrik, PPP (SB), Sindh Democratic Alliance and the National Alliance which awarded tickets to minority candidates for the general and women’s reserved seats.
This led to approximately 12 Hindu and Christian candidates contesting the elections for national and provincial assembly seats.
The women candidates of the minority communities contesting from women’s reserved seats included Nosheen, a Catholic from Lahore, who was awarded a ticket to the NA by the PPPP, Rubina Feroze Bhatti, a Catholic from Sargodha, who is a PPPP nominee for the Punjab assembly seat; and Mrs. Aslam Martian, a Catholic from Karachi, nominated by the Awami Tehrik for the Sindh Assembly seat.
In addition, 10 reserved seats were allocated to minorities in the National Assembly. With the exception of the PPP (Sherpao Group) and the National Alliance, all the political parties submitted names of only male candidates. According to the election results, only one minority candidate, a Hindu, Rajweer Singh, won the election on a general seat for the Sindh Assembly. He contested the elections from PS 61, Tharparkar on the ticket of the National Alliance. The election results also revealed that no woman from the minority community (from those nominated for the women’s reserved seats), will get any seats in the assembly.
The minority votes in the national and provincial assembly elections were divided, with no single party securing a higher percentage of the minority vote. Minority votes were equally divided between the PPPP, PML (QA), PML (N), PPP (SG), NA, MQM, ANP and SDA. In Lahore, many Christians cast their vote for the Awami Tehrik, while in Peshawar and Mardan, many Christians voted for the MMA.
Controversy abounded as the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), formerly the Christian Liberation Front, claimed that 90 per cent of the minority vote was for the PPPP, while Peter Sahotra, a candidate of the PML (Q) from Faisalabad, for the minority reserved seat in the Punjab Assembly, rejected the claim as out of hand. He claimed that Faisalabad, with about 80,000 minority votes, and Gujranwal and Sheikhupura, with about 82,000 minority votes, voted for the PML (Q).
According to a source, most of the Catholics of Chak 5/4-L, District Muzaffargarh, voted for Kasim Hanjra of the PML (Q) as MNA, and Nasir Abbass Tragar of the PML (N) as MPA. However, the winner from this constituency was PPPP’s Mrs. Khalida Mohsin, who banked 70 Christian votes out of a total of 1,800 votes from the village.
In Chak 135/16-L (a Christian village in Khanewal District), the majority of Christians cast votes in favour of Mr. Fakhar Zaman, a PML (Q) candidate for MNA, who was contesting against PPPP’s Peer Aslam Bodla. Zaman got a 18-vote lead from this village. In Chak No. 133/16-L (another Christian village in Khanewal District), PPPP candidate, Peer Aslam Bodla secured the majority of votes.
As the Christian vote was divided, all political parties will be obliged to support the cause of the minorities in parliament, and address their problems at the local level. The impressive mandate of the MMA in the elections, however, is a cause of concern, as the MMA has a history of hostility toward minority groups. The biggest fear is that the MMA may reintroduce the system of separate electorates and halt the investigations into the discriminatory nature of the blasphemy laws.
On the whole, however, leaders of the minority community are not complaining. At the moment, they are just happy to be part of the general electioneering process. Although only one member of the minority community made it to a general seat in this year’s election, the communities are hopeful of the future heralding more minority candidate tickets and wins on general seats.
Interestingly, the election results of the minority candidates who lost the elections, reveal that they secured some Muslim votes as well. In PP198 Multan, a Christian candidate, Mr. Abid Chand, stood seventh among 11 candidates (of them, 10 were Muslim)
Aftab Alexander Mughal is the editor of the Minority Concern of Pakistan and former National Executive Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of Pakistan.