Rigging against minorities

PTI might have stretched the electoral rigging accusations to the realm of paranoia – as manifested by Chaudhary Sarwar’s claims during the weekend’s polling – but the party deserves credit for perpetuating the idea of holding the powers-that-be accountable for the most crucial part of a democratic process. This is especially true for a fledgling democracy, in a country where both the civilian and military leaders have historically manifested dictatorial and autocratic tendencies, and never paid heed to electoral equality.

Even so, electoral rigging has a far-ranging implication and isn’t limited to fake votes or law enforcement authorities coercing voters into electing a particular influencer. As was expounded by many during the 2013 elections – especially by the parties at the receiving end of terror attacks – the shelter provided by TTP’s umbrella was also a form of rigging.

However, there’s another manifestation of rigging which despite tampering millions of votes during every election, doesn’t seem to merit sit-ins or judicial commissions. This could be because Pakistan’s Constitution and the ECP’s ‘Election laws’ legalise this particular form of violation of democracy and electoral credibility. Not to mention the fact that the people wronged by these violations are those whose political voice is either silenced or Constitutionally deemed inferior.

While the separate electorate implemented under Ziaul Haq was overturned in 2002, it’s hard to decide whether religious minorities are actually faring better in the token ‘Joint Electorate’ which has been marred by a ‘Selection System’. With 10 of the 342 National Assembly seats ‘reserved’ for minorities, what actually happens is Muslim political parties selecting the 10 minority candidates in proportion with the results of the 272 contested seats – the other 60 being reserved for women. Hence, following the 2013 elections six minority seats were allocated to PML-N and one each to PPP, PTI, MQM and JUI-F, who in turn selected the minority representatives.

A group of 20 Christian organisations and parties called the ‘Pakistan Christian Alliance’ boycotted the first phase of Local Bodies Elections in Punjab and Sindh last week protesting against the law which further reinforces the ‘Selection System’ by stating that minority seats in union councils would be filled through political parties’ nominations. Like the general elections, Christian representatives had to contest elections via the mainstream Muslim parties or as independent candidates. This is one of the reasons why Lahore’s UC-245 and UC-246 – both Christian majority areas falling under Shahbaz Sharif’s constituency – preferred voting for independent candidates. Christians of UC-246 (Youhanabad) especially felt alienated following Punjab Police’s brutal torture of over 250 Christian youngsters who weren’t remotely associated with the lynching incident that followed the two bomb blasts in March.

The ‘Selection System’, in both the general and local government elections, further reinforces the authority of the Muslim majority and blatantly contradicts Article 226 of the Constitution which reads: “All elections under the Constitution, other than those of the prime minister and the chief minister, shall be by secret ballot.”

As Christian parties boycotted the local government elections, the Ahmadiyya community as a whole refused to participate in the elections, just like they did in 2002, 2008 and 2013. This is because, while there are boxes that need to be ticked by ‘Muslims’, ‘Christians’, ‘Hindus’, ‘Sikhs’, ‘Parsis’ etc, there is a completely separate voters list for Ahmadis, which further enhances the state’s social, political and electoral apartheid against the community.

“Election Commission has specially added a column of religion in the voters registration form. Ahmadis have to sign a declaration showing their disconnection with the Holy Prophet (PBUH) for registering themselves as a voter in it and an Ahmadi cannot even think of such disconnection,” reads a Jamaat Ahmadiyya press release with regards to the community’s boycott of the local bodies’ elections.

If the likes of ASWJ and LeJ have their way, maybe the Shia community could be asked to sign something along similar lines for yet another separate electoral list owing to their ‘diversion’ from paying allegiance to the initial caliphs of Sunni Islam. Let’s not forget that the likes of Azam Tariq and Ahmed Ludhianvi have been elected to parliaments.

As Pakistan works on reconciling civil-military ties to ensure democratic stability, while simultaneously propelling a National Action Plan (NAP) to “counter religious extremism in all shapes and forms”, the minorities’ repudiation of the local government elections should ring alarm bells on both the democratic and counterterrorism fronts.

Implementation of true democracy isn’t just a fight against military coups or fraudulent votes, more crucially it’s a struggle to form a mechanism that treats all state citizens equally, regardless of their religious viewpoint. That is only possible through secularisation – separation of state and religion – of the Constitution. For, once you make Islam the state religion, like any other ideology, the Constitution would thence propel its adherents as superior citizens, regardless of any token mention of equality in the preamble. Furthermore, ramming Shariah law in the Penal Code has further exacerbated the discrimination and formulated the Islam-specific blasphemy law, which has become the most potent arsenal to target religious minorities over the past 29 years.

While treating all religious communities – regardless of their un-Islamic or ‘heretic’ viewpoints – equally is a prerequisite for democracy, no plan against religious extremism would make any significant inroads towards societal tolerance unless similar equality is exercised in counterterrorism policymaking. No matter how ‘sacrilegious’ a community or an individual’s beliefs, unless every person is identically protected against hate speech and threats of violence, the NAP would remain a campaign against a selected group of militants at the very best. For, any policymaking against terrorism as a whole would have to identify its Islamist roots, which are actually nourished by the Muslim supremacism embedded in the Constitution.

Unless the Pakistani Constitution treats the ‘Sadiq and Ameen’ pious Muslim of Article 62 and 63 the same way as it would treat a ‘deviant’ Ahmadi, a non-Muslim Hindu or any individual who denies religion completely, any electoral process in Pakistan would remain half-baked, undemocratic and skewed towards the majority.

In a true democratic state there actually aren’t any ‘minorities’ when it comes to voting during elections. The fact that Pakistan not only has a ‘minorities list’ but ensures that Muslim majority political parties decide the fate of other religious communities, shows that any elections in the country are a sham for millions of non-Muslims. If this form of electoral rigging persists, Pakistan will remain light years away from being an actual democratic state, even if there are no military coups, and all elections are deemed ‘free and fair’ by ECP or any patched up judicial commissions.


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