Maimed Democracy Denies Its Citizens the Right to Vote
Asian Human Rights Commission
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has had discussions with the
leaders of the Ahmadis, a religious minority community of Islam, in
Lahore in Pakistan’s Punjab Province. During these discussions, it was
found that they are denied access to practice their religion at local
mosques and that Qur’anic scriptures engraved or painted on the walls of
their mosques are erased by Muslim extremists in the very presence of
the police. According to Islamic law, no Qur’anic verse may be removed.
However, in a country that is always ready to utilize blasphemy laws for
one’s advantage, no action has been taken against either the extremists
or the police.
Furthermore, during the discussion, it was also revealed that, being a
minority community, they are denied their basic right to vote to elect
their representatives and that under the present civil government they
have been swiftly and effectively expelled from the whole electoral
Internationally, a democracy is defined by a government elected by the
people. However, in Pakistan, there is an exception to this rule in that
Ahmadis, because of their faith and beliefs, are excluded from
Pakistan’s electoral system.
Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto in 1974 not only declared Ahmadis to be
non-Muslims in the country’s Constitution, but he also introduced a
change in the electoral system and allocated a few seats to religious
minorities in the general assemblies. As Ahmadis did not accept the
imposed status of being a non-Muslim minority, they never availed
themselves of these seats.
Gen. Zia ul Haq in 1985 introduced the 8th Amendment to the Constitution
of Pakistan that imposed the system of a separate electorate. Since
then, elections are held in the country on the basis of separate
electoral lists for different religious groups. Those who claim to be
Muslims (and Ahmadis are Muslims) have to sign a certificate of faith in
Khatmi Nabuwwat (the end of Prophethood, an organization which is
exclusively working against the Ahmadis under the patronage of the
State) and deny the veracity of the holy founder of the Ahmadi religion.
The separate electorate system has divided the Pakistani polity into
numerous entities based on religion, but the worst case is that of the
Ahmadis who have been forced out of their proclaimed faith and denied a
fundamental civil right, damaging and maiming Pakistan’s claim to be a
In 2002, the leader of the country, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, instead of
introducing a joint electoral system, required voters to sign a
declaration concerning their belief about the absolute and unqualified
finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be
upon him), and those who refused to sign the certificate were to be
deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list
of voters as non-Muslims.
These devious and unacceptable procedures have usurped the fundamental
civil rights of Ahmadis. For decades, they cannot stand as candidates
for any assembly at the national, provincial or even district level.
Ahmadis have no representation even in the town council of their own
community of Rabwah where they make up 95 percent of the population.
To fool the world community, Pakistan has now introduced a form for the
registration of all voters, but every applicant who ticks themselves as
a Muslim must sign a certificate printed on the back of the form
declaring that they are not associated with the Qadian or Lahori group
or calls himself an Ahmadi. This form includes a warning that a
violation will be punished with imprisonment.
The irony of the matter is that Article 20 of Pakistan’s Constitution
guarantees freedom of religion, and Pakistan is also a signatory to the
U.N. Charter of Human Rights, which makes it obligatory upon the
government to safeguard the fundamental rights of all people without any
discrimination whatsoever based on religion, faith or belief.
The United Nations, European Union, human rights organizations and the
world media urged the government of Pakistan before the 2008 general
elections to establish a joint electorate roll system that was free of
discrimination based on one’s faith, belief, caste, race or color.
Now that Pakistan is preparing for the next general election in 2013 it
is time to place pressure on the government to take immediate steps to
end its inhumane discrimination against Ahmadis. For the credibility of
Pakistan’s claim to be a democracy, it is vitally important that all
discrimination in the form of declarations and orders be withdrawn and
that joint electoral lists be prepared without any reference to
The right of Ahmadis to vote must be restored, and facilities must be
provided for the members of this minority community to participate
safely and without duress as voters and candidates in the forthcoming
If Pakistan does not heed this call, it will continue to remain a maimed
democracy and an embarrassment to the respectable democracies of the
* The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is a regional
non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights
issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. More
information is available on AHRC’s web site at <http://www.ahrchk.net/index.php>