by Zia Ur Rehman
October 3, 2015
Local government elections are meant to empower citizens to run the affairs of their neighbourhoods by themselves. But under the new local government system in Sindh, that is apparently not the case for non-Muslims.
The top councillors of an area might not even be its residents, let alone be members of the community.
Non-Muslim leaders are unhappy over the indirect process through which office-bearers of union council will be elected under the new system. With the submission of nomination papers for the upcoming polls starting today (Saturday), they have demanded that political parties should award tickets them for general seats so that the residents of non-Muslim populated areas could elect the people of their choice to run their neighbourhoods.
The Leaders of Minority Development Initiative – a forum representing non-Muslims in Karachi – has been struggling for non-Muslims’ right to be elected through direct voting at the union committee level.
In the last two local government polls held in 2001 and 2005 in the province, voters – both Muslims and non-Muslims – directly elected one non-Muslim councillor to a reserved seat in an area.
But under the new system, there will be a chairperson, a vice-chairperson and four general councillors in each union council (in rural areas) and union committee (in urban areas).
On August 12, the Sindh Assembly passed the “Sindh Local Government (Third Amendment) Bill 2015” wherein, along with other amendments, the new rules for directly electing the chairperson, vice-chairperson and four general councillors were introduced.
Voters will only caste two votes in each union committee or council for electing six people. The six elected office-bearers will elect a non-Muslim nominated by their respective political party to a reserved seat for minorities. Besides, they will also elect the people for the reserved seats for women, youth and labourers.
The MDI leaders agree that they are late in taking up the issue and pressuring the government to allow non-Muslims leaders to be elected through direct voting.
Now they are asking political parties to award tickets for the chairman, vice-chairman and general councillor slots to their candidates in non-Muslim-populated areas.
Zahid Farooq, an MDI leader, told The News that all political parties, which generally vowed to address the issues of non-Muslim communities and recruited their members in their minority wings, should give tickets to non-Muslim leaders for the general seats.
“It will prove as to whether these parties are actually sincere with non-Muslims or not,” he added.
Pakistan Sikh Council chief Sardar Ramesh Singh said his community had boycotted the local government polls in protest against barring non-Muslims from their democratic right to elect their own candidates.
“But we support the MDI’s demand that political parties should give tickets to non-Muslim leaders in areas where their communities are in majority,” Singh added.
He also demanded that political parties that won at the union committee level should nominate a non-Muslim for the slot of the vice-chairperson in one of every six districts.
In Karachi, the areas where there are over 5,000 non-Muslim registered voters are in the Korangi and East districts.
Essa Nagri, Manzoor Colony, Akhtar Colony, Azam Basti, Pahar Ganj, Khuda Ki Basti, Ittehad Town, Michael Town, Christian Town, Mariam Colony, Saddar, Father Colony and Grax Colony (Mauripur) are Christian-populated neighbourhoods where there more than 5,000 voters of the community.
Hindu-populated neighbourhoods are mainly in the Old City including Narain Pura, Slaughter House and Soldier Bazaar.
In the last local government polls, the government had increased the seats for non-Muslim councillors from one to two in each neighbourhood that had up to a 10 percent non-Muslim population, decreasing the general councillor seats from four to three.
In the 2005 polls, there were three non-Muslim leaders elected naib nazims in non-Muslim populated areas. Anthony Naveed, a PPP leader, was elected naib nazim in Akhtar Colony where the nazim was a Jamaat-e-Islami candidate.
In Essa Nagri and Manzoor Colony, Gulzar Khushi and Anwar Sardar, both Christians, were elected naib nazims respectively.
Naveed said after becoming his area’s naib nazim, he had tried his best to address his community’s issues. “Like in the case of general polls, wealthy and influential non-Muslims have purchased tickets for these slots from political parties for the local bodies elections this time and aren’t bothered about the issues of non-Muslim communities and their neighbourhoods,” he added.
Non-Muslim leaders have mainly demanded tickets from four key political parties – the Pakistan People’s Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Jamaat-e-Islami – for the general seats.
In response, these political parties have promised that that they would nominate non-Muslim for these seats.
Senator Taj Haider, the PPP Sindh general secretary, said he had already directed the party’s district election boards to give tickets to non-Muslims as well as women for the general seats.
“Non-Muslim communities have remained associated with the PPP since its beginning and we will not only give them ticket for non-Muslim-populated areas but for Muslim-majority parts of the city as well,” he maintained.
Younas Sohan, the JI Karachi minority wing chief, said his party’s leadership had decided to give non-Muslims as many tickets as it could.
“The JI has always raised its voice for non-Muslims’ rights and will give them as many tickets as possible for the local government polls too.”
MQM central leader Aminul Haque said his party was liberal and progressive and had always raised its voice for non-Muslim communities.
“We will definitely give tickets to non-Muslim members for the slots of chairpersons, vice-chairpersons and general councilors.”