Pakistani Catholics are protesting against the choice of Easter Sunday for the holding of important regional elections, at a time when their country is going through a major political and economic crisis, mortgaging the future of an already weakened Christian minority.
“To organize the elections on Easter Sunday… is the deliberate denial of the electoral right of Christians, a right guaranteed to every citizen according to the Constitution of Pakistan. We hope that the authorities concerned will reconsider the date of the elections and modify it accordingly,” protests the National Commission for Justice and Peace, an entity that depends on the Catholic Church in Pakistan.
And for good reason: the presidential decree signed on February 20, 2023 stipulates that the next local elections organized in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – respectively in the North-West and East of the country – must be held on Easter Sunday, the most sacred day of all for the Catholic minority which represents approximately 1% of the total population.
“Organizing the elections to be hold on Easter Sunday would exclude the participation of a community which has played a fundamental role in the creation and development of Pakistan,” affirms the Justice and Peace Commission which has asked the Head of State, Arif Alvi, to find a suitable date for all voters of the Islamic Republic.
For his part, Roheel Zafar Shahi, Secretary General of the Commission for the Rights of Minorities in Pakistan, denounces what he calls the “blindness” of the authorities who, in his eyes, have no respect for the religious holidays of non-Muslim communities.
“Christians in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa strongly demand that the date of the elections be changed as soon as possible so that Christians can exercise their right to vote in the elections. We intend to file an appeal with the Punjab High Court and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he added.
Nothing suggests that the voice of the Christian minority will be heard, because the political situation is confused in the country. For almost a year, former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been in a showdown with the current executive. Ousted from power in April 2022, following a motion of no confidence in Parliament, the former strongman of Pakistan considers himself the victim of a political plot and asks that the people arbitrate.
The current government has refused to do so until now, because its opponent enjoys immense popularity. But last December Imran Khan dissolved two of the four regional assemblies that his party leads directly or with allies, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now, Punjab represents half of the Pakistani population, 110 million out of 220 million inhabitants.
In terms of security, Pakistan is paying dearly for the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan, while it celebrated, during the time of Imran Khan, the fall of Kabul and the departure of Westerners.
All of this is happening on top of the catastrophic situation of the economy, weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic, by the effects of the war in Ukraine on the cost of energy, and by the major floods in the summer of 2022, which submerged a third of the land and caused losses estimated at 40 billion dollars (38 billion euros).
Inflation has reached a record 27.6% and the IMF rescue plan, with drastic conditions for the population, which the United States is trying to impose on Islamabad, is likely to further destabilize the Islamic Republic, at the risk of further weakening the Christian community.