Islamabad: Pakistani religious scholars on Thursday issued a 'fatwa' that declared voting in the country's upcoming general election was "compulsory under Islamic injunctions", a senior religious leader said.
Over 300 clerics from different schools of Islamic thought issued the decree in Islamabad nearly two weeks ahead of the May 11 general elections, Pakistan Ulema Council chairman Allama Tahir Ashrafi said.
The edict was in marked contrast to the stance taken by the banned Pakistani Taliban, who have described democracy as "un-Islamic" and warned people not to participate in the landmark polls that will mark Pakistan's first democratic transition of power.
Ashrafi said the fatwa contends that voting is an "Islamic obligation" of the people and the action of those who avoid voting will be considered a "sin". He said the decree was prepared after ascertaining the opinion of senior religious scholars, who urged people to exercise their right to vote.
The fatwa further said the democratic system could be changed only through the vote. Asked about women's rights to vote, Ashrafi said the decree favoured the right to vote for women. However, the decree said women officials should be deployed at polling stations for women. Ashrafi asked people to vote in the general election and use their right in favour of good candidates.
If there is no good candidate, then voters can choose a "less bad" option, he said.
He said thousands of seminaries associated with the Pakistan Ulema Council have endorsed the fatwa. All major political parties, including the Pakistan People's Party, PML-N, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, PML-Q, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami and minorities have backed the decree, he said.
The decree comes at a time when electioneering by major political parties is underway across Pakistan despite threats from the Taliban, who have threatened to target secular parties like the Awami National Party and MQM. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan has warned people to boycott the polls.