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Disenfranchised in Pakistan

A guide to Christians' concerns about the February 18 parliamentary elections.

Pakistan's parliamentary elections are scheduled for February 18, but they have already been rocked by violence and turmoil. The Parliament, which elects the president, selected Pervez Musharraf to another term last October, but the General instated emergency law and dismissed the Supreme Court judges who would have opposed his confirmation. Meanwhile, candidates for Parliament and party leaders, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were stumping in anticipation of early January elections. Musharraf was confirmed by the new Supreme Court, stepped down from his army post, and lifted the state of emergency. Then, on December 27, Bhutto was assassinated.

Clearly, the country as a whole faces major challenges this week. But Christians (who make up less than two percent of the Pakistan's population) and other minorities face unique political obstacles of their own. Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS UK (Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement), explains their dilemma.

The parliamentary elections in Pakistan had almost entered the final phase. The election commission had completed dealing with allegations and objections against the candidates and published the final ballot list. I didn't see anything that could have derailed the parliamentary election scheduled for January 8.

Now, shortly after the end of the 40 days of mourning for Benazir Bhutto, we are about to try again, although the vacuum created by her death cannot be filled. Her presence was a guaranteed win for some politicians but a threat for others.

All the parties, including the PPP (Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party), have already distributed party tickets, which nominate candidates to campaign under the banner of a particular party. I am very concerned ...

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Disenfranchised in Pakistan
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