The Pakistanis Who Won’t Vote
Rights groups welcome Pervez Musharraf-era reforms to Pakistan’s electoral system, which helped put religious minorities on an equal footing with Muslims. But Ahmadis say they were left out, and some other religious minorities say they still don’t have adequate representation in Parliament.
“We want to be part of the mainstream, but they [the government] won’t let us. They are keeping us out of elections,” a spokesman for Pakistan’s Ahmadi community said.
Muslim extremists in Pakistan persuaded the government to pass a constitutional amendment in 1974 declaring Ahmadis non-Muslims. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates there are at least one million Ahmadis in the country.
Ahmadis follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a late 19th Century reformer who they consider a prophet. Most orthodox Muslims believe there were no prophets after Prophet Muhammad.
In 1985, President Zia-ul-Haq altered the country’s election laws so that when someone registered to vote, they were put into a group based on their religion. Non-Muslim groups were given a handful of seats in Parliament and barred from voting in general elections for their districts. Ahmadis, for example, regardless of where they lived in Pakistan, could only vote to elect representatives to one of two reserved seats at the national level.