By: Aroosa Shaukat
LAHORE: As many as 43 women and 102 non-Muslim candidates in Lahore are contesting local government polls on general seats, according to data released by the Election commission of Pakistan regarding the elections scheduled for October 31.
More than 7,000 candidates are in the field for chairman, vice chairman and general councillor in 274 union councils across Lahore. As many as 124 women will contest the elections in 12 districts where the polls are being held in the first phase. Out of these, 15 are in the race for chairman, seven for vice chairman and 102 for general councillor.
Most of the women candidates in the province are running from Lahore. Seven of them are vying for chairman, three for vice chairman and 33 for councillor. In Faisalabad, five women are candidates for chairman, four for vice chairman and 20 for councillor. There are no woman candidate from Lodhran and Bhakkar. “Women are not considered serious candidates… still many are willing to take up the challenge,” says MPA Azma Zahid Bukhari. She says the low number of women candidates contesting on general seats is indicative of political parties’ priorities. “Political parties are to blame for this. There is no constitutional bar on women contesting elections to general seats,” says Bukhari.
“If the parties sincerely wanted greater women participation in mainstream politics, they would have fielded more women candidates for these seats.”
“Women are often sidelined,” says Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MPA Nausheen Hamid. She says there is an impression that they would not win general seats. “Merit cannot be ignored but women are usually limited to seats reserved for them.” Hamid says the PTI encouraged women participation in the elections. Three women are contesting for chairman and vice chairman seats in Lahore on the PTI’s platform, she says.
As many as 204 non-Muslim candidates are in the race in the first phase of the polling. Of them, 18 are vying for chairman, 30 for vice chairman and 156 for councillor seats. Most of such candidates are in Lahore, followed by Faisalabad, Kasur, Vehari and Nankana Sahib. No non-Muslim candidate is contesting a general seat in Gujrat, Chakwal, Bhakkar and Okara.
Of the 102 non-Muslim candidates in Lahore, 78 are candidates for councillor and 12 for chairman and vice chairman.
Parliamentary Secretary for Minorities Affairs and Human Rights Tariq Masih Gill says minority communities are unhappy with their lack of adequate representation. “Minority communities want to be treated as equal citizens… there is a sense of confusion regarding how to go about it,” he says. In the case of the Christian community, he says there is confusion within the clergy on whether to demand inclusive elections or separate electorates.
MPA Shanila Ruth who opposed a recent amendment to the local government law providing for indirect election to reserved seats, said the legislation aimed at marginalising the already marginalised. “The problem is that your fate in terms of representation lies in the hands of someone else.” Regarding participation of non-Muslims on general seat elections, she says party tickets were mostly awarded in areas where non-Muslims were in majority. “Bahar Colony and Youhanabad are some of the areas where a number of non-Muslim candidates are contesting for general seats.”
“It is logical to award non-Muslims tickets in areas where they are in a majority,” she says. Contesting general seats in Muslim majority areas remains a challenge, she says.