Date: May 14, 2013
By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Christian leaders and rights activists have urged Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to protect religious minorities after he claimed victory in the country's deadliest election yet.
A final vote count from the weekend elections confirmed Tuesday that Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party received 123 of the 272 directly elected national assembly seats. Independent candidates who normally join the party that forms the government won 25 seats, the election commission said.
That combination would give Sharif's party more than the 137 directly elected seats needed to have a majority, according to the released vote count.
The election commission said outgoing ruling Pakistan People's Party won 31 seats, while the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party led by former cricket star Imran Khan received 26 seats.
Yet the outcome was overshadowed by election-related violence that killed at least over 140 people since April, including dozens on Election Day. Most attacks have been blamed on militants of the Pakistan Taliban, linked to terror group al-Qaida, who regard the vote as un-Islamic.
'SCALE BACK EXTREMISM'
"Sharif should take measures to scale back extremism if not completely reverse the rise in fundamentalism [and] growing religious intolerance," said Sheraz Khan, chief executive of rights group Global Minorities Alliance (GMA), in a statement to BosNewsLife.
“The 2009-2010 period in the province of Punjab, the stronghold of Sharif's party, saw a 34 percent increase in terrorist attacks and a 26 percent increase in terrorist- related killings,” he added, citing statistics from the Pakistan Institute of Peace studies in Islamabad.
Islamic extremism, including attacks against churches and individual Christians, has also been fueled by controversial blasphemy legislation. Over a dozen people, including Christians, are known to be on death row over blasphemy allegations and over 50 people have been killed while awaiting trial on similar charges, according to rights activists.
“We are deeply concerned about the safety of Asia Bibi, a mother of five on death row over blasphemy”, explained Khan in a statement to BosNewsLife.
PAKISTAN BLASPHEMY LEGISLATION
Khan said he hoped Sharif’s new government would take steps aimed at stopping the "misuse" of Pakistan's blasphemy legislation.
That isn't easy. Two politicians, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 for criticizing the country's blasphemy law.
Additionally, complicated election rules have made it difficult for the legislation critics and Christians to receive enough votes to make a difference in Parliament, prompting the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) party to urge a boycott of this weekend's vote.
"The National Assembly of Pakistan and Provincial Assemblies elected in the 2013 election will not be democratic nor constitutional because [only] selected...women and minorities will be part of that house which will be [violating] Article 226 of the Constitution of [the] Islamic Republic of Pakistan," said PCC Pesident Nazir S. Bhatti in a statement.
GMA's Khan urged Sharif to do more to "protect and safeguard the rights of all religious, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic minorities of Pakistan."
The Glasgow-based GMA has been involved in several demonstrations for Christian rights."We would like to see an end to discrimination against minorities in public and private sectors,” Khan added.
However Robert McCulloch, the Procurator General of the Catholic Missionary Society of St Columban, said Christians "are not united sufficiently" and therefore "unable to exercise the powerful voice in deciding what would happen…"
McCulloch, who lived and worked in Pakistan for 34 years and returns regularly to the country, told Vatican Radio that “there are certain questions within the whole process, that when one looks at the stance of some of the parties, one has to consider from the point of view of Christians that on past records, on present rhetoric what ‘s going to be the result."