Representatives for minority groups have called for an overhaul of the process of election for reserved seats in parliament, arguing that the process of allocating these seats contravenes minority communities’ fundamental rights.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, elected to a reserved seat, introduced a constitutional amendment bill during the assembly session last week asking for a change in the election criteria, which allocates reserved seats in parliament to political parties on the basis of their share of general seats.
Article 51 (e) of the constitution explains that “members to the seats reserved for non-Muslims shall be elected in accordance with law through proportional representation system of political parties’ lists of candidates on the basis of total number of general seats won by each political party in the National Assembly”. However, Vankwani says the minority community “strongly feels that their representation in the national and provincial assemblies may be increased in proportion to the population of non-Muslims.”
The issue was raised at the Supreme Court when 27 provisions, including Article 51 (e) of the 18th Amendment were challenged, but a decision is still pending. A 17-member bench had announced an interim short order after over four months of deliberations on Oct 21, 2010 but there has been no progress since.
Presently, under Article 51 (4), 10 seats are reserved for non-Muslims in the National Assembly. Under Article 106, three seats are reserved in Balochistan, three in K-P, eight in Punjab and nine in the provincial assembly of Sindh. During former president Pervez Musharraf’s tenure, the number of NA seats was increased to 272 from 207. The number of seats for minorities, however, remained unchanged at 10.
The proposed amendment in the constitution says that by choosing from a party list, the minority community has no say in who occupies the 10 reserved seats in the lower house. Instead, these seats enable victorious parties to ‘pick’ their favorites. Moreover, there is a discrepancy between those selected on reserved seats and those who are active members of the minority community.
Vankwani said a change in the election procedure of reserved seats is not a new phenomenon. In 1985, a separate electorate was introduced for non-Muslims and five separate elections were held. This process was abolished in 2002.
Dual Vote System
The bill has proposed the introduction of a dual vote system for non-Muslims and Vankwani argues that dual franchise would enable non-Muslims to cast one vote for a candidate for general seats while the second vote would be cast for a member of their own community. “In this way, minority groups will remain integrated with mainstream politics while the true representatives of their communities would also surface,” Vankwani explained.
The bill proposes a delimitation of constituencies on a divisional basis by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for reserved seats. The number of divisions included in each constituency shall be on the basis of its non-Muslim population, so as to make a total of 15 constitutions for the National Assembly, the bill added.
Using the same mechanism, four constituencies shall be formed in Balochistan, four in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 10 in Punjab and 14 in Sindh.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2013.
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