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Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK
Minorities' anger over 'separate electorate'
A Hindu family living in Pakistan
Religious minorities can elect their representatives only
By Zafar Abbas in Islamabad

Several prominent members of Pakistan's religious minorities have reacted sharply to General Pervez Musharraf's decision to allow the next elections of the local governments to be held on the basis of the controversial system of "separate electorate".

Under this system, the religious minorities are only allowed to elect representatives of their respective communities.

While unveiling his new local government plan on Monday, General Musharraf defended the system of separate elections on the basis of religion.

He said it was the only way to guarantee some seats for the religious minorities.

But several prominent members of the Christian communities said such a system discriminates against the religious minorities and that it was unacceptable to them.

'Discriminatory'

In a signed statement, four prominent Roman Catholic bishops and several human rights activists in the Punjab province denounced the government's decision and asked General Musharraf to treat the members of the religious minorities as equal citizens of the country.

The religious minorities in the country have often complained of being discriminated against.

The controversial electoral system where members of the minorities can only vote for the candidate belonging to their own respective communities, was introduced in the 1980s on the demand of conservative Islamic groups.

Since then successive governments have failed to reverse the decision and now even the present military administration has decided to retain the controversial system in order to avoid any confrontation with the conservative Islamic lobby in the country.

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See also:

14 Aug 00 | South Asia
Musharraf unveils local election plan
06 Aug 00 | South Asia
Musharraf urged to hold elections
23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Pakistan sets election timetable
23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Waiting for democracy
23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Profile: General Pervez Musharraf
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