First session of the new parliament, Christian presence increasingly faint

Islamabad, Pakistan - The new Pakistani parliament, chosen during the legislative elections last February 18, is meeting today for the first time. On the order of the day, national security, restoration of the judicial branch "decimated" by president Musharraf, and the struggle against international terrorism, the main point of meetings with the United States, a major ally.

The parliament will be led by the People's Party, the undisputed winner in the latest elections, which last week struck an electoral agreement with the Muslim League (N). The latter party, headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, took second place in the vote count. Interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema explains that "at the moment, our main interest is that of securing the meeting. Nothing will be left to chance".

There are three Christians among the 342 members who make up the lower chamber. This is a very small number compared with expectations because, as Meboob Sada, director of the Christian Study Centre, explains to AsiaNews, "Christians went to vote without preparation, and their vote was divided". According to the complicated voting system now in place, in fact, 10 parliamentary seats are reserved for minorities: after the vote in 2002, there were five Christian parliamentarians.

According to Sada, "Political parties are not ready to make room for Christians, so those who want to run must become independent candidates. This means that their campaign efforts are limited, and the Christian minority often does not know the name of those who might represent them. Furthermore, a Muslim will never vote for a non-Muslim".

This, the Catholic analyst continues, "is a huge challenge for us in future: the lack of 'political' unity among Christians. Together, we could become a significant force, and possibly decisive in certain areas: but this way, instead, our deputies are nothing but puppet representatives".

Peter Jacob, secretary of the Pakistani Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, explains that "the situation is different in the four provincial assemblies, confirming the previous analysis. In Punjab, for example, the Christians obtained all of the eight seats reserved for minorities, and our representation in Sindh increased by 80 percent. In the tribal provinces - the North West Frontier and Baluchistan - Christians obtained two of the three seats reserved. This is an extremely important result".