Pakistan elected its first female senator from the lowest Dalit caste in weekend polls which also saw the ruling party strengthen its hand ahead of a general election in the Muslim-majority country.
The surprise victory of opposition candidate Krishna Kumari Kohli in the Senate election stirred a wave of optimism on social media, as Pakistanis celebrated the rare success for a woman from a marginalised community at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy.
“I feel proud, I am thankful to Pakistan People’s Party that they nominated me,” Kohli said.
“Kudos to PPP for electing #KrishnaKohli…. Our parliament should have representatives of all religions, classes & genders in pursuit of true democracy,” tweeted rights activist Jibran Nasir.
Pakistan’s Hindus, who make up around two percent of the country’s 200 million people, have long faced economic and social discrimination.
Members of parliament and of provincial assemblies voted Saturday to fill half the seats in the Senate, or upper house, before elections due this summer for the lower house of parliament.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 15 of the 52 seats up for election to secure a total of 33 spots in the 104-seat upper house. Support from allies is likely to give it a dominating majority.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won 12 and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former cricket star Imran Khan came third with six.
“Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has secured a clear majority in the Senate polls,” the party announced late Saturday on its official Twitter account.
The victory came despite legal setbacks.
Last July the Supreme Court toppled PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif from the premiership over corruption allegations.
Ahead of the Senate vote, the court also barred Sharif from leading his party, forcing all PML-N candidates officially to stand as independents because they had been selected by the axed chief.
Following the win, Sharif called on his supporters to keep fighting at the ballot box in the face of pressure from the courts.
“First they removed my name and then they removed the Muslim League’s name but members of parliament and provincial assemblies rejected that decision,” he told thousands of supporters at a rally in the eastern city of Gujrat Sunday.
Despite the court rulings, the PML-N has won a string of by-elections following the ousting of Sharif.
The Sharif clan and their supporters have repeatedly denied corruption, suggesting Nawaz is the victim of a conspiracy driven by Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.