National Voters Day is celebrated on 7th December throughout Pakistan in order to highlight the importance of vote and to motivate the citizens to obtain their CNICs and get them registered as voters by the ECP. The choice of the date was symbolic as on 7th December 1970 Pakistanis got their right to adult franchise for the first time after 23 years of independence.
This year, celebration of National Voters Day is more significant as Pakistan is on the road to Election-2018, and if it goes smoothly, it will be the second consecutive civilian to civilian transition in country’s troubled political history. The incumbent government will complete its 5 years constitutional term on May 31, 2018 and then within 60-day the next general elections will be held.
Election-2018 will also be conducted after new census as during 2017 the long delayed population census also took place and it is going to be the new base for redistributing of nation’s political wealth and fiscal resources. The mainstreaming of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with rest of Pakistan is also on the cards. It is expected that the political integration of the war-torn FATA after its proposed merger with Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa will bring peace and better life for the residents there, through better governance in the region.
During October-December 2016, as a result of mega countrywide exercise, the ECP updated electoral rolls and 4.20 million new voters were registered after door to door verification of CNICs (Computerized National Identity Cards). About 140,000 voters were deleted from the rolls due to deaths and other in-eligibilities. Now, the total number of registered voters reached 97.02 million. However the most shocking revelation was about missing women voters in all parts of the country. The gender gap was highest in the FATA i.e. 24 percent, followed by 16 percent in Balochistan, 14 percent in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 12 percent in Punjab and 10 percent in Sindh. It was lowest 8 percent in the federal capital-Islamabad. In terms of number there were 54.59 million (56 percent) male and 42.42 million (44 percent) female voters.
The positive intervention to address this gender-gap was the proposal in the Election Act 2017 to nullify the election in a constituency where women voters’ turnout was less than 10 percent and the ECP has been tasked to take special affirmative actions in collaboration with the political parties to increase registration of women voters.
Pakistani youth bulge is sufficiently reflected in the Electoral Rolls. According to the ECP in 2013 out of the 84 million total registered voters 16.2 million (20 percent) were in the age bracket of 18-25 and another 23.8 million (28 percent) under 35. After the revision of Electoral Rolls in 2017 the total number of voters in Pakistan has jumped to 97 million. The plausible assumption is that the over whelming majority of 17 million new voters are the young voters. However the statistics recently released by the ECP convey otherwise. This youthful voting block holds the key to define and determine their right to be governed democratically in Election-2018. For first time in country’s history ‘Youth Councilors’ are part of Local Governments in the Federal Capital-Islamabad and in three provinces namely; Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. This innovation will serve as a nursery to groom future political leaders. Coordinated efforts are required by all the stakeholders to address the gender gap which is highest among young voters (18-25).
In addition, we need to encourage eligible voters to deepen their understanding about democracy and electoral processes, especially the reformed electoral system. In this regard, special focus on youth and women voters will be greatly helpful in increasing electoral turn out which will be positive sign to Pakistani democracy as well. In this regard, close collaborations among ECP, civil society organizations and educational institutions could be more effective to get the desired results. In absence of student unions, mock election exercises should be conducted at the universities motive university students and train them about their participation in electoral process.
Civil society and youth organizations should also review the performance of elected governments with special reference to fulfillments of their commitments/promises made in election manifestos. They should also influence the ongoing exercise of manifesto preparation so that political parties should listen to their issues.
On the other hand, political parties should also organize meaningful dialogues with the concerned stakeholders in order to get their maximum input for new election manifestos. They also need to develop strategies to increase the participation of youth and women in electoral process.