By UCA News
By Kamran Chaudhry
(UCA News) — Christian members of federal statutory bodies are calling for the rescheduling of local elections in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, slated for Dec 24 citing Christmas festivities.
Concerns have been expressed since the Election Commission scheduled the local polls for 101 union councils in the federal capital last month. Around one million voters, including more than 50,000 Christians, will elect their representatives. Each union council has four reserved seats for women, the underprivileged, youths and minorities.
In his Nov. 1 letter, Manzoor Masih, a member of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) urged the Chief Election Commissioner to reschedule the elections.
“The day of polling is not suitable for the Christian residents of Islamabad. It would infringe on the constitutional rights of the Christian community. The Constitution of Pakistan provides equal rights to minorities to celebrate their religious events and to take part in the process of election by voting or by contesting them,” he said.
According to Manzoor, the letter was approved by the NCHR chairperson.
“I have been receiving calls from the local community; this wasn’t a personal request. Sometimes the polling time is extended by an hour till 6 in the evening. Both last-minute shoppers and churchgoers will have no time to prepare for the big day,” he told UCA News.
“Holding the elections even a day after Christmas will facilitate voters anxious about the polls delayed since 2015. It will be a double celebration,” he said.
Albert David, a member of the National Commission for Minorities, is still waiting for a reply to a similar letter sent to the Chief Election Commissioner last month. He plans to file a lawsuit to address the issue.
“Political parties are already supporting the delay amid the political crisis as former prime minister Imran Khan leads a long march to the national capital. None of them have started the nomination of their candidates,” he said.
Khan, who was dismissed by a no-confidence vote in April, launched the ‘Haqeeqi Azadi March’ (Real Freedom March) last week in a bid to regain power.
“Many families return to their native villages during the Christmas holidays. Christian voters won’t be able to wait in long queues. Candidates will also be challenged to bring voters, decorate their houses and churches and go to the polling stations,” David said.
Despite being an Islamic republic, Dec. 25 is a national holiday in Pakistan to celebrate the birthday of the country’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Schools and colleges also get a longer winter break from Dec 23-24 to Jan. 2-3 nationwide.
Pakistan has three tiers of government: national, provincial and local. According to Article 140-A of the constitution, every province shall establish a system of local governance with political, administrative and financial responsibilities.
Section 83-A(6) of the Local Government Act 2019 (Amended) stipulates that apart from the seats of the general counselor of non-political or electoral groups, candidates for special seats for women, minorities, laborers and political workers will also be given representation.
District councils and metropolitan corporations are respectively the highest rural and urban tiers of local government in the provinces. Both urban and rural local governments have two or three tiers in all provinces except Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where councils are not identified as either urban or rural.