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Salma Peter demands Election for Pakistani Minorities on reserved seats in Parliament

Washington DC: June 21, 2012. (PCP) In an upbeat daylong event of Pakistani American Congress PAC to mark PAC,s 2oth Annual Day at Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on June 18, 2012, Salma Peter John was honored with an “Achievement Award” for her services to humanity and PAC before her speech on democratic norms which are denied practicing Selection system on reserved seats for minorities and women in Pakistan.

Salam Peter John who is Director of ICAN, Islamabad Chapter specially travelled to US to participate in Pakistani American Congress moot as a special guest.

20th Annual Day of Pakistani American Congress PAC was graced by Pakistani Ambassador in USA Sherry Rehman, US State Department delegates, Pakistan Embassy officials, Ms. Anusha Rahamn MNA of PML (N) Ms. Fauzia Kasuri from Women Wing of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf, US Representative on AF/PK, scholars of Think-Tanks, journalists and Pakistani-American community leaders.

Salma Peter in her speech said “I do represent 5% of Pakistan’s population who are religious minorities but I also represent women of Pakistan that makes 51% of the population of country”

Commenting on minorities, she added “the word minority is not defined by numbers alone but the conditions of being weak, being less privileged, being deprived of equal due rights and being under oppression in Pakistan”

Salma Peter asserted that women and minorities must be elected to reserve seats in parliament instead of Selection which is adopted by government of Pakistan.

The PAC moot held main objective linking to opening of NATO supply route to Afghanistan which was blocked by Pakistan after NATO forces attack on Slala Check Post killing 25 Pak armed services personals which was widely discussed by Pak Ambassador and US officials.

Pakistan Christian Post (PCP) has exclusively obtained full contents of speech of Salma Pater for our readers: rnMr. President, dignitaries, distinguished ambassadors, think-tanks scholars, media personnel, and ladies and gentlemen — Greetings with peace and blessings from Pakistan.

Yes indeed, I do represent the 5% of Pakistan’s population who are religious minorities, but in addition, I also represent the women of Pakistan that make up the 51% of the population of the country.

To me, the word “minority” is not defined by numbers alone, but by the condition of being weak, being less privileged, being deprived and being oppressed. For example, the Shia population of Iraq, though more [populous] in numbers, was reduced to minority status during the time of Saddam Hussein. The Jewish population, though small in number in the United States, has rarely called itself a minority. Hence, the word “minority” is a state of being weak, less privileged, deprived, and being oppressed. For that reason, the 51% of women of Pakistan are a minority in the true sense and spirit of the word.

In fair and fortunate democracies, all citizens must be protected and treated equally before the law. Reserved seats, however, hamper this goal of equal treatment. The ten reserved seats for minority parliamentarians and the sixty reserved seats for female parliamentarians, along with other quota system in various institutions, corroborate the assertion that both women and non-Muslim population of Pakistan are a minority. The constitution deems them to be equal, but the government of Pakistan, by allocating the reserved seats, implicitly admits that both the women and non-Muslim minorities are unequal, less privileged, deprived, and oppressed.

Let us look at the selection system for reserved seats in our parliament. It is common knowledge that various political parties compete for 272 seats in the general elections. The proportion of each party’s win determines each party’s share in the privilege of selecting the women and religious minority members to the remaining 70 seats.

This design contains several intrinsic ills and problems:

1. Subservient Parliamentarians: Parliamentarians on reserved seats have their loyalties to the nominating political parties and not to the voters, because voters never participate in their election process. When their constituents approach them on issues of concern, they are told outright, “You did not vote for me, why you are bringing this problem to me?” With extenuated vote power, both the women and religious minority parliamentarians are there to obey the “master’s voice,” that is, the dominant political parties.

2. Blackmailing and other corrupt practices are the norm. The highest bidder may get the seat, the seat may be given to a relative or friend as pay off for a favor, or, more forebodingly, some women ensure their seats by becoming mistresses or girlfriends to the stake holders. Undated and notarized resignations are often obtained in advance to solicit ‘loyalties by coercion and blackmailing.’ I have witnessed all of these instances of corruption during my work in the office of the late Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities,

3. Unfair Distribution of Seats: There are 10 reserved seats allotted to religious minorities. Although Christians are the largest minority, they only occupy 2 seats; Hindus hold the other 8 seats. In the upper house, the Senate, there are 4 reserved seats for religious minorities: A Christian was selected for one seat and Hindus for the remaining three seats. This ‘constitutional flip’ should have raised a red flag for ‘suo moto action’ by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

4. The beneficiaries of the reserved seats are given the impression upfront that they wouldn’t have won a general election, hence tagging them with failure in the absence of empirical results. What would one say if a student is given a label of “failure” before he or she ever starts school or takes an exam?

Dear audience, I assert that if we continue to fill the minority and female seats under the present selection system; the minority-majority gap and the gender gap will remain there even after another century, because we are not encouraging our weak, less privileged, deprived, and oppressed class of population to have courage and confidence to participate in the general elections with self-esteem. In fact, the selection system kills the very purpose of inclusion of women and minorities in the parliament. It is a shame and an insult to the intelligence of seventy parliamentarians that Pakistan is the only country where 20% (70 out of 342) of its parliamentarians are chosen without a single vote.

I understand that your umbrella organization, the Pakistani American Congress (PAC), is celebrating its 20th annual day on the Hill. I believe that this number 20, coinciding with the 20 percent of Pakistan’s parliament that can be termed “free-loaders” is not coming to us by chance.

I understand that PAC believes in strong democratic institutions, holds its elections every 2 years, and chooses its 3 vice presidents out of many candidates. No matter how many candidates contest, the top 3 with the highest votes are declared as winners. I would like to suggest a similar method of election for both the religious minorities and the seats reserved for women: allowing candidates to enter general elections, with or without the party lines, in any constituency, and under joint electoral vote of the general elections. The only thing the government needs to do is to ensure the distribution of these seats to areas according to respective population size of both women and the minorities.

Public service is a sacred trust between the ELECTED official and the general public. A competent official who upholds the public trust can only be procured by direct election, and not with the patronage selection system.

It is about time that these twenty percent reserved seats be given–not as political favors to yes-men, high bidders, or the most physically attractive women–but to individuals who have earned them through a fair and competitive election. In democratic governments, a layman’s vote is the most basic unit and proven parameter of a truly democratic society.

Thank you very much.

(Salma Peter John is Director of ICAN Islamabad, a Catholic Civil Society organization in Pakistan and writer who can be reached at sublimity_pk@hotmail.com. Mr. Victor V Gill of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania also contributed to the above speech contents)

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