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“The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) wrote today to the Government of Pakistan via its High Commissioner in Canberra welcoming the end of the Separate Electorates System”, said Sandie Cornish, National Executive Officer of the ACSJC.

“We have been concerned for some time about the Separate Electorate System in Pakistan.  Under this system members of religious minorities, such as Christians, can neither vote for Muslim candidates nor can they stand as candidates in Muslim electorates.  There are separate electorates on the basis of religion.  Muslim voters can only vote for Muslim candidates while non-Muslim voters can only vote for non-Muslim candidates contesting seats reserved for their religious group.  The Constitution provides that 207 seats in the National Assembly are reserved for Muslims and 10 seats are provided for religious minorities”, she explained.

 “Our colleagues at the Pakistan Bishops’ Conference’s National Commission for Justice and Peace have been campaigning against the Separate Electorates System for many years because it appears to have created and reinforced divisions among the citizens of Pakistan, encouraging religious bigotry and restricting the voting choices of all citizens, Muslims and members of religious minorities alike.  The ACSJC has stood in solidarity with them in this campaign”, she said.

“The Government of Pakistan has now announced that it will not use the Separate Electorates System in the next General Election.  We welcome most warmly this positive development, and hope that it will be a significant step in building up national unity and undoing the bitterness of past division by helping to guarantee equal rights to all citizens.  We know that Pakistan faces many challenges at present, and continue to pray for justice, peace and real security in the South Asian region”, she concluded.