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Pakistan Drops Voting System That Favored Muslims

January 17, 2002|From Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The military government scrapped an electoral system that discriminated against religious minorities, announcing a major reform Wednesday that frees non-Muslims to vote along with the Islamic majority.

The government also dramatically increased the number of seats in the National Assembly, the powerful lower house of parliament, to broaden representation, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported. It quoted Tanwir Hussain, chairman of the National Reconstruction Bureau.

In Pakistan, members of minority religions voted not for candidates in their local districts but for a list of minority candidates. The minorities were then given separate seats in the National Assembly in a system that they said isolated them from the mainstream. In the past, only 10 seats were reserved for religious minorities.

The government also tripled, to 60, the number of seats reserved for women.

In the next elections, due in October, members of Pakistan's minority religions, including Hindus and Christians, will have voting rights identical to those of Muslims.

Pakistan's 140 million population is about 97% Muslim.

The split system had been introduced by late military ruler Gen. Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s.

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