The question of reserved representation

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

During the course of the recent hearings on the 18th amendment, one of the Supreme Court justices questioned whether members of the National Assembly on reserved seats, for women and minorities, could be described as elected representatives of the people since these members are nominated by the head of a political party.

This is a very valid point that requires discussion. The present system, where the parties get to decide who to nominate based on a system of proportional representation, is counter-productive to the aim of having reserved representation for marginalised sections in Pakistani society. The members so ‘elected’ through this process are neither professional politicians nor representatives of the minorities and women.  In 2002-2007 legislatures, even the MMA, entirely hostile to all minorities of Pakistan, had a minority representative.

The constitution makes it mandatory for its lawmakers to strive towards a just, fair and equitable society for all citizens of Pakistan regardless of religion, gender or origin.  Unfortunately this obligation is watered down by often contradictory obligations for Islamisation that run at cross purposes to the obligation of creating an egalitarian society.

One way around our constitutional democratic Islamic state’s contradictory obligations vis-à-vis Muslim majority and non-Muslim minorities as well as Islam and women’s rights is affirmative action for all marginalised groups and the surest way of doing this is by giving actual representatives of these groups a voice in the national legislature. This can be easily achieved by making all reserved seats subject to direct elections, for example, all minorities jointly or severally, whichever works, may — for the purposes of reserved seats — constitute one unified constituency nationally and four provincial constituencies. So demarcated, the top 10 vote getters in the unified national constituency would then be allowed to take their seats in the National Assembly and the equivalent number for each provincial assembly. The same process can be repeated for women.

To ensure real and not illusionary power to these representatives, any matters pertaining to minorities or women should be subject to a veto from these reserved seats for minorities or women, respectively. In other words if a majority of the representatives of minorities veto a legislation which would reasonably affect their rights as citizens of Pakistan, it would not be passed. This would be an actual and material safeguard for non-Muslim Pakistanis and historically consistent with the principle behind the famous 14 points that the Muslims had put forth in counter to the Nehru Report in 1928. The main idea behind the Pakistan Movement was that a permanent cultural majority by sheer numbers should not be allowed to dictate to and dominate a permanent cultural minority. Everything we have done in Pakistan since the passing of the Objectives Resolution has been a negation of that principle.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2010.

Minorities and affirmative action

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

In response to my article “representation for women and minorities” in Express Tribune, one reader suggested that perhaps a two state solution is the only way for minorities in Pakistan to seek justice and that Jinnah’s arguments may be employed by the minorities to this end. While I do not quite agree with a two state solution especially since the minorities do not form a majority in any significant region large enough to constitute a state, I do believe that a variant of the Jinnah model may be validly employed by Pakistani minorities for better bargaining with the Pakistani political elite.

 One may recall to this end that Jinnah’s main concern was to bring Muslims of both Muslim majority and Hindu majority areas on one platform and the idea of a separate state provided a slogan vague enough to achieve this unity.  In other words the demand for a separate state was at once a bargaining counter vis a vis the Hindu majority and a whip to bring Muslim majority provinces in line. Jinnah’s real objective was to present a unified front for the Muslim minority.

Most commentators intimately aware of minorities’ issues in Pakistan know that the real number of minorities is under reported by the state authorities. The total number of Non-Muslim Pakistanis is closer to 18-20 million and not the paltry 7 million admitted by the state. This is not counting the 3 to 4 million or so Ahmadis, who are the world’s only forced minority.

Therefore what is  needed is an independent political party around the idea of civil rights and equality for minorities.  Minorities generally vote for the Pakistan People’s Party which is seen as the lesser of many evils.  Since the PPP knows it is the obvious choice for Pakistani minorities, it is not pressed in the least to woo them.  In contrast the aforesaid independent political grouping or party would be able to score between 5 to 10 general seats. If the reserved seats are also opened to a direct election through a Non-Muslim only election, such a political party would become a major force.

It would then be free to act as a collective bargaining agent ala Jinnah to enter into a progressive coalition that would not only help improve the lot of minorities but will ensure that all political parties become more sensitive to the political needs of Pakistanis who are followers of faiths different than the faith of the majority.  This is the only constitutional way under the circumstances to ensure equality for Pakistan’s hapless minorities.

The question remains however as to whether non-Muslim Pakistanis have a Jinnah in their midst and more importantly can a diverse group such as the minorities of Pakistan find the kind of common ground needed to unite them?



Filed under Pakistan

9 responses to “The question of reserved representation

  1. Majumdar

    Good points. I think given the very small numbers of non-Muslims in Pakistan it would be better if the minority seats were filled up by an exclusive non-Muslim electorate while the general seats cud be filled up with a joint electorate.

    Can’t resist a small quibble.

    The question remains however as to whether non-Muslim Pakistanis have a Jinnah in their midst

    Well, I am afraid that is immaterial, they don’t have the numbers. So even another Jinnah won’t help. Even in the undivided India, had Muslims numbered says 3-5%, the Hindoos/INC wud have asked the Muslims/Jinnah sahib to lump it.


  2. Ibn-e-Maryam

    In democratic societies, members of legislative assemblies (national, provincial, or local) are usually elected from a specific area. Usually, problems faced by residents of a specific area are common among members of the religious majority and minorities. For example, if a road needs to be built in a specific area, one cannot say that only followers of Islam will be allowed to drive on that road. So, in a democratic society this actually an absurd idea to have representation of religious minorities in assembly, just because they are a minority in that country/province.

    As far as representation of females is concerned, it should be encouraged. One way to do this is distribute women seats over the entire country based on the population of women. Only females should be allowed to vote for those seats and that too for say 15 years and then everybody should vote only on the basis of equality: one person one vote

  3. YLH

    The representation in question is in addition to general electorate …

  4. Humanity

    @ YHL

    You are a very smart, knowledgeable person. You know better than to react to disingenuous remarks. Learn to ignore insincere participants who come to this forum with no good will only to derail the discussion. Just ignore them and they will go away.


  5. D Asghar

    Yasser Bhai, I agree with your analysis. So it is similar to the affirmative action in the US. I know at least in my life time, I will not get to see a Pakistan, where such things will no longer be needed. But “Ummeed per duniya qayem hai.”

    Secondly and most importantly, I agree with Humanity as well. Due Bhaiyya is only venting his froth. 🙂 You are definitely better than him in presenting and displaying an argument. Regards.

  6. Ibn-e-Maryam


    Pakistan has set aside a number of seats in the legislative assemblies for religious minorities. This act itself is an indication of religious discrimination and intolerance. Tell me one thing, these minority reps have been able to due for their respective communities with respect to legislation or uplift. Of course, they have been able to dole out money given to all MNAs/MPAs.

    On the other hand, giving underprivileged females (regardless of faith they profess) is an investment in the uplift of the mothers of the future generation. This too, as I suggested earlier, should be in addition to the normal representation, and voted in only be females. All female candidates should have residence in their electoral districts.

    I, even think that our Senators should be elected by the general populace, and that way they can be more answerable to the voting citizenry. This model works very well in the US.

  7. YLH

    These reserved seats are in addition to direct elections and not exclusive. So it can’t be discriminatory because it is in addition to a non-Muslim’s right to vote in general elections.

    The reason why they haven’t done any good for anyone is because these representatives are chosen by the head of PPP, PML-N and MMA.

    I suggest you cool down and re-read what is being argued.