LAHORE: Political parties failed to mobilise religious minorities in the recently completed process for local bodies as almost half the seats reserved for them remain unoccupied. Of the 3,550 seats for minorities in union councils, 1,768 seats are vacant because no one came forward to file nomination papers.
The situation seems exclusive to the seats for minorities as those for women, workers/peasants and the youth are all but filled. The election commission announced results for these seats on November 25 with some districts where not a single reserved seat for minorities was filled.
Chiniot and Hafizabad districts had 39 and 27 reserved seats for minorities, respectively, but not a single one could be filled. In Dera Ghazi Khan, 97 out of 98 seats reserved for minorities lie vacant.
The situation in Jhang is no different as 69 out of 75 seats remain unoccupied. In Rajanpur, 67 out of 69 seats are vacant while 60 out of 70 positions in Lodhran are empty.
Circumstances are similar in Vehari where 96 out of 102 seats are vacant while 38 out of 44 lie unoccupied in Jhelum. Another 40 out of 48 and 51 are vacant in Khushab and Mianwali districts, respectively.
Although there is no district that has had filled all seats reserved for minorities, Gujranwala seems better off in terms of participation. Only one of the 130 reserved union council seats for minorities is vacant in the area.
Only three seats of a total 113 are vacant in Sheikhupura. Over in Sialkot, five out of 121 seats reserved for minorities are vacant. In Kasur, just five of the 153 seats are unoccupied. The situation is also relatively better in Lahore as eight of the 274 seats are empty. A tie emerged on five of those, while 30 seats were clinched by independent candidates. One seat went to the Jamaat-e-Islami, 212 to PML-N, one to PPP and nine to PTI.
In Muzafargarh, 95 out of 135 seats are vacant. A total of 98 out of 117 are vacant in Gujrat as are 68 out of 80 in Mandi Bahaudin, 24 out of 96 in Narowal, 30 out of 88 in Bahawalpur, 37 out of 114 in Rahim Yar Khan, 95 out of 135 in Bahawalnagar, 28 out of 48 in Layyah, 39 out of 193 seats in Faisalabad and 15 out of 72 in Nankana Sahib.
In Multan, 62 seats of a total 118 seats reserved for minorities are vacant as are 87 out of 144 in Khanewal, 58 out of 72 seats in Attock, 57 out of 71 in Chakwal, 69 out of 103 in Rawalpindi, 92 out of 148 in Okara, 30 out of 56 in Pakpatan, 19 out of 89 in Sahiwal, 51 out of 63 seats in Bhakkar, 104 out of 162 in Sargodha and 15 out of 85 seats in Toba Tek Singh. These are vacant because no elections were held for them.
In 13 different districts, 19 women were elected on seats reserved for minorities. Among those elected, eight contested independently, while five are from PML-N, three from PTI and the same number from PML-Q.
Election Commission Deputy Director (Local Government Election Branch) Athar Abbasi confirmed about half of the minority seats were vacant. A major reason for this, he added, was the lack of interest from political parties to fill these seats.
When no candidate files nomination papers, the election commission is left with no choice but to hold a re-poll.
Shunila Ruth, a PTI MPA on a reserved seat, admits it is the political parties’ responsibility to introduce minority representatives on reserved seats. She says PTI’s position in Kasur is stable and most of the minority seats of local bodies are filled due to mobilisation of her party.
Marry Gill, a PML-N MPA on a reserved seat, says it is shocking that so many minorities reserved seats are vacant. She stresses that it is the responsibility of minority wing heads of political parties to bring candidates to the fore.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2016.
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