LAHORE - The leaders belonging to different religious minorities have decided to intensify their protests against the Local Bodies Elections and threatened to boycott the process if their demands are not met.

“If protests fail to impress the government and it does not listen to our demands, we may be left with no option but to boycott the upcoming local bodies elections,” the Christian leaders unanimously decided in a meeting that was presided over by Archbishop Sebastian Shah on Thursday. The meeting was attended by Rev Shahid Mehraj, Rev Emanuel Khokar, Col Daniel Washington of Salvation Army and other prominent Christian leaders of different denominations.

The Local Government Bill 2015 was passed unanimously rejecting opposition’s objections, terming them baseless. According to the Bill, eight minority members will be elected directly while five members will be chosen indirectly by these eight in each union council.

The minority leaders said all options would be weighed to force the government to repeal newly passed law that hinders minorities to use their right to elect their representatives.

Speaker Punjab Assembly Rana Muhammad Iqbal and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah held a meeting with top Christian clergy and leaders on Wednesday evening after the bill was passed in Punjab Assembly. But the meeting failed to yield any result as no consensus could be reached.

Rana Iqbal said that he had noticed their protest but the political process must continue. Christian leaders said that the effort of the Speaker was just to pacify them and not for repealing the bill.

Bishop of Lahore (Emeritus) Alexander John Malik rejected the newly passed bill and demanded of the government to repeal it and restore the system under which Local Bodies elections were held during 2001 and 2005.

“It (the bill) deprives the minorities of their basic rights that the constitution has given to them. The denial to vote for the representatives is denial to true democracy. The government fears victory of such candidates on minorities’ seats that would not support it in future that is why they have amended the law to elect their own representatives indirectly. Despite all that the minorities should not boycott the local bodies elections,” Bishop said.

Former councillor Sardar Bishan Singh also showed serious concern over the newly passed law. “The law that usurps minorities’ right to vote and elect their representatives would not be tolerated. The Sikh community along with other minorities like Christians, Hindus and Parsis would stage peaceful protests across the country,” he added.

Christian leader Rev Shahid Miraj said the law was against the spirit of democracy. “True representatives of the minorities would not be able to make it to union councils. Only the nominated people of the government would be taken on board and they will not work for the welfare of their community,” he said.

“I fear that we might have to boycott the local bodies’ polls on October 31. The new law would promote nepotism and corruption while depriving minorities of their right to representation,” Miraj added.

Christian Democratic Party’s (CDP) Ben-Hur Yousuf Gill has already categorically rejected newly passed law that, he said, was in conflict with the article 140/A of the constitution. He said that the CDP would consider all the options including boycott and widespread protests.

Amernath Radhawa, a Hindu, also rejected the local government bill and said it was a plan to get only the rulers favourites in the union councils. “Minorities dislike the general election criteria but present law has stopped true representatives of the minorities in local bodies. We would go for all options to force the government to amend the law and ensure minorities participation in the election.”