Why do so many religious political parties have substantial welfare programmes? Is their welfare work merely a means of winning votes or does it serve other purposes? An investigation of the welfare programmes of the Jama'at-i-Islami parties in Pakistan and Bangladesh shows that they:-
- are involved in a wide range of charitable, welfare and service provision activities, including health care and training, education, emergence relief, water supply and orphan support
- charge a basic (below market rate) fee for the services they provide (except to those who cannot afford to pay), which users are prepared to pay because of the perceived good quality.
- are organized in very different ways for historical, political and practical reasons: in Pakistan the Jama'at has established its own network of specialised or multi-sectoral welfare and service delivery organizations, whereas in Bangladesh (where the organisation has periodically been restricted or banned) members play key roles in the management of apparently independent organizations
- demonstrate the parties' commitment to their religious ideology, especially social justice, which is seen as central to Islam
- require a very organized party structure, meaning that not all religious parties can maintain large welfare programmes
- deliver their services through networks of voluntary organizations, which rely on managers who are party members and volunteers, rather than paid professionals.
The claim that political parties are 'membership groups' that compete with other membership groups for citizens' loyalty and resources is borne out by this study.
Working Paper No. 34, Religions and Development Research Programme, University of Birmingham, UK, 43 pp.