Pakistan elects first non-Muslim MP

  28 July 2018    Read: 920
Pakistan elects first non-Muslim MP

Pakistan has elected a non-Muslim to a general seat in the national assembly for the first time in its recent history, even as the victory of ex-cricketer Imran Khan raises some concerns among minority communities, the Independent reported. 

Mahesh Kumar Malani, a 55-year-old Hindu, spoke to The Independent on Friday after it was confirmed that he had won his seat in the impoverished Tharparkar district of Sindh province.

As a member of the third-placed progressive Pakistan People’s Party, led by the son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Mr Malani said he will now likely travel to Islamabad in opposition to Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Near-final results late on Friday showed PTI had won 115 of the 272 contested seats in the national assembly, while the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) conceded defeat on 62. PPP placed third, with 43 seats.

And while coalition talks for Mr Khan to form a government are just beginning, Mr Malani was willing to get a headstart on taking the victorious former sportsman – whose critics dub him “Taliban Khan” for his perceived closeness to extremist Islamist groups – to task.

Extremism represents one of the biggest challenges to Pakistan’s future, Mr Malani said, alongside poverty. “We [PPP] can join hands with anyone if they have any actable agenda to fight against both poverty and terrorism in the best interests of the nation,” he said.

Standing up for minority rights represents one of the key tenets of the PPP manifesto, Mr Malani said, but he would not let his religion alone define his role in parliament.

“I am not only the representative of the Hindu or the minority,” he said. “In a general election the Muslim majority also votes for me, so I am going to perform my duty for all my people and for my nation. My agenda is to stand up for the rights of every citizen of Pakistan.”

On the campaign trail, Mr Khan rallied support from mostly Muslims with populist messages calling for the death penalty for blasphemers and vitriol against neighbouring India.

Most voters from religious minorities told The Independent on election day that they would vote for PML-N over Mr Khan’s PTI. Nadeem Masih, 30, from Islamabad’s small Christian community, said of Mr Khan: “He is not interested in our rights if I tell you the truth.”

For Mr Malani, the biggest issue with Mr Khan was not necessarily his courting of extremists, but rather his courting of independent candidates who regularly swap parties for elections to join the highest bidder – a group of influential, veteran politicians dubbed “electables”. 

“Imran Khan has the same team of ‘electables’ who were part of the previous governments of the PML-N and the PPP,” Mr Malani said. “Khan declared that previous government corrupt and specifically said all these ‘electables’ were corrupt too.

“I am surprised – how will Imran Khan bring the change he has promised with all these old faces? How are they now not corrupt, but have become honest and sincere?”

Mr Malani said it was nonetheless time for people to come together in the best interests of the country. He praised his campaign team of mostly Muslim workers and said he hoped soon other political parties would pick candidates like PPP “on merit, with no discrimination towards religion or any other basis”.

And while he said he will “do what I can” as a member of the opposition to Mr Khan, his final words for the new prime minister elect were reconciliatory, adding: “Despite all the reservations, my best wishes are with him.”

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