There are no campaign posters in the Pakistani town of Rabwah, and no election rallies on its streets. Though they could be an influential bloc in a key electoral battleground, nearly 90 percent of its residents will not vote in a July 25 poll.
The people of Rabwah, in Punjab province, are predominantly Ahmadi Muslims, and abstain from elections due to what they say are discriminatory laws that target their minority sect.
Pakistan’s election laws place Ahmadis on a separate voter registration list categorizing them as non-Muslim. Community leaders say this violates their right to religious self-identify as Muslim.
“It’s a matter of our faith so there can be no compromise on that,” community spokesman Salim Ud Din told Reuters.
Pakistan’s Election Commission did not respond to requests for comment. In a letter sent to Salim Ud Din, the commission said it was “following law which cannot be changed by the commission”.
Community leaders say anti-Ahmadi rhetoric has intensified in the lead-up to Wednesday’s general election, as politicians seek to shore up support among religiously conservative voters and head off the challenge posed by two new Islamist parties.
Last year, a row over proposed changes to the election law that would have eased some of the barriers on Ahmadis participating in elections saw the group denounced on the floor of Pakistan’s parliament, while one of the new Islamist parties held street protests.
The Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims but their recognition of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in British-ruled India in 1889, as a “subordinate prophet within the fold of Islam” is viewed by many of the Sunni majority as a breach of the Islamic tenet that the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last direct messenger.
A sense of citizenship
Salim Ud Din, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community, holds up an advertisement outlining during an interview with Reuters in the town of Rabwah, Pakistan. (Reuters)
Salim Ud Din released a statement on July 13 saying the Ahmadi community would once again be disassociating from the elections due to Pakistan’s discriminatory laws.
“We have a very rich history of participating in politics,” he said, adding that Pakistan has allowed itself to be controlled by the religious right.
Election observers believe if the country’s 500,000 Ahmadi were to participate, their vote could swing the results of more than 20 closely contested seats in Punjab, the most populous province where Pakistani elections are won and lost.