Voters are often simple, honest people who wait for promises to be fulfilled that their elected representatives made before elections. They want to believe that their future will improve once they bring the right people into power. But this political mirage is almost always farther than they thought.
Every political party types up a wish list – a political manifesto is a guide to help people to see what the party has to offer and decide. Every political party highlights its manifesto at every chance it gets during the election campaign and then it is seldom mentioned. The voter is too busy post-election trying to cope with old and new problems to remember the manifesto, while the party is busy pretending to govern the country or oppose and protest the government – depending on its fate in the election.
As bad as it is, the political parties dupe voters without discrimination, including voters who belong to religious minorities. It seems addressing religious minorities helps their manifestos not only look good but also inclusive – which merely adds to the persona of the party.
The number of these voters is not as high as the Muslim voters in Pakistan – which is 96.47% of the total population. Hindus are 1.73%, Christians 1.27%, Scheduled Castes 0.4%, Ahmadis 0.09%, and people from minor minorities including Sikhs, Parsis, Baha’is, Buddhists, Kalash, etc. comprise 0.02% of the total population (Pakistan Bureau of Statistics). But somehow these voters hold enough importance for political parties – at least near elections – for them to be included in manifestos.
It is highly improbable that this inclusion in manifestoes is because the parties are abiding by Pakistan’s Constitution which gives minorities importance by clearly mentioning this in its preamble, and again then in Articles 5, 25, 33 and 36. Naturally, there must be other motives: fulfilling promises and serving them is not one of them.
Some pledges seem to incorporate non-issues, probably because the political parties found that addressing the core issues – like religious freedom and equality among citizens – is harder in the wake of rising religious intolerance
Political manifestos are only for short-term pre-election consumption – not that many people read them or question their candidates about them. These are historical documents for political scientists and historians, and anyone else who is interested to peruse them later for research.
However, it would be rather interesting to find out why a political party goes through the trouble of compiling a manifesto and then adding minorities’ rights.
One group of people seems to be thinking along the same lines and have made the effort of studying the political manifestos of the seven ,am political parties – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI); Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N); Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP); Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q); Awami National Party (ANP); Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement(MQM).
Their report is titled “Promises to Keep & Miles to Go – Assessment of the Delivery on Party Manifestos to Protect Minorities’ Rights” recently released by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The group of analysts and researchers went through the pledges, actions and performance on minorities’ rights of the major political parties.
The report also revealed the performance of the different provincial governments. During 2008 and 2022, the Punjab government introduced 11 policy actions, followed by the federal government with 9 actions. The government of Balochistan introduced 8, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 7, and Sindh 6 actions. It was also found that most of these lacked a strong legal basis and implementation mechanism, which defeated the purpose. This means there is a need for serious re-examination of our administrative system.
The study also revealed that one-third of the pledges in the manifestos in 2008, 2013 and 2018 were common and remained unfulfilled. These included establishing a statutory minority commission; minority representation in ETPB; criminalising forced conversions; implementing job quotas; reviewing discriminatory laws and reviewing curriculum.
It was also revealed that the political parties are “reluctant to take measures to address outstanding issues faced by minorities, to counter the anti-minorities propaganda, as transpired in the case of draft bills on criminalizing forced conversions which were ignored by national, and Sindh assemblies due to pressure exerted by religious forces. However, they made partial progress on the inclusion of religious studies as an alternative to Islamiat, textbooks are yet to be developed.”
The researchers also found that the political parties increasingly use language that manifests their aspirations for the empowerment of minorities, but when they come into power their resolve seems to taper away. And they rely heavily on non-legislative means or weak measures.
Speaking about the report, Peter Jacob, executive director of CSJ, says, “We have carried out this study with the intention and objective of showing the political parties the reality of their pledges made in the previous election manifestos and to invite their attention to how superficial these pledges have been.”
He adds, “We wish to draw the attention of the political leadership as well as the concerned citizens, the voters and the public at large to basically try to inject some seriousness into the political process, particularly around the electoral process. Therefore, this report we hope will contribute to improving the state of democracy and ultimately the respect for human rights.”
It is only right to highlight some important conclusions from the report that were made after the review of political manifestos regarding minorities’ protection.
One important point made in the report was that “political parties were seldom seen discussing or evaluating progress on their manifesto commitments except around the elections.”
Another interesting and important point in the report’s conclusion was that “one-third of the pledges were common in parties’ manifestos.” One would have thought this commonality would have helped parties to make progress on these issues. The lack of delivery by the parties on these raises some questions about the seriousness and level of importance attached to them.
Also, we are informed that “pledges made do not match the urgency and the gravity of issues being faced by religious minorities.” Over time, some pledges seem to incorporate non-issues, probably because the political parties found that addressing the core issues – like religious freedom and equality among citizens – is harder in the wake of rising religious intolerance.
The report also determined that there was a “lack of consistency in the pledges and a lack of follow-up on the pledges,” which revealed that “the parties may have put forth some pledges without a serious examination of the issues and resolves.”
Commenting on the performance of political parties both in government and opposition, Peter Jacob says that the parties largely failed to implement their pledges fully in the last three parliamentary tenures. “The study found that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf fulfilled none out of five promises made in its election manifesto 2018, though it made partial progress on two promises. Pakistan Muslim League-N failed to materialize nine out of ten promises. Pakistan Peoples’ Party partially implemented one out of eight promises.”
Are the political manifestos a case of “dekhanay ke aur, karnay ke aur” (a play on the Urdu saying loosely translated to mean that appearances can be deceptive, or what you see in not necessarily true)?
Many will agree that this is exactly what these manifestos are: deceptions, and an open secret at that. Interestingly most people already know that a political manifesto is political clickbait just for elections and the post-election product will not be anything like the promises.