Pakistan´s Bishops Urge Catholics to Participate in Political Life

Join National Parties, They Advise in Pastoral Letter

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 14, 2002 ( Pakistan´s Catholic bishops are urging the faithful to exercise their voting rights in the upcoming general elections, after decades of political marginalization.

In January the Pakistani government abolished the electoral system under which citizens chose their representatives based on their religious affiliation.

Non-Muslim minorities could vote for a restricted number of candidates, but only of their religion. Now, the country is returning to the electoral system set up in the 1973 constitution.

About 97% of Pakistan´s 144 million inhabitants are Muslim. Only 1.6% are Christian.

Noting the parliamentary elections scheduled for Oct. 7-11, the bishops state in a pastoral letter: «We are grateful and rejoice that after […] years of being marginalized and subjugated by the ´separate electorates´ system of the previous governments, the basic human right of every citizen to vote for the candidate of his choice has been restored.»

The letter adds: «The need of the hour is to build a tolerant, democratic [government], and we, as Christians, must take full part in the democratic process: the right leaders, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or people of other faiths.»

The bishops also encourage Catholics to participate in the life of the large political parties, rather than small ones, in order to be able to influence national life.

«Rather than forming their own little parties, we encourage our faithful to take part in active politics by joining mainstream national or regional parties,» the bishops state. «By joining these parties, they could influence their manifestos and thus play a constructive role in the Joint Electorate system.»

The bishops request that special attention be given to ensure that the candidates and their parties respect and promote women´s rights.

«Voters would need to know the manifesto or platform of the party or candidate — they should especially see that women´s rights are respected and promoted by the party or candidate,» they stress.

Moreover, the candidate for whom Catholics vote should be «a person of sound moral character and reputation, who has a record of showing concern for the poor people and speaking up on their behalf,» the bishops conclude.

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