Not surprisingly, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has won the lion’s share of the reserved seats in the National Assembly, by clinching 28 reserved seats in total. Among the opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has claimed 18 reserved seats — including 16 for women and two for non-Muslims and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has won 11 reserved seats — nine for women and two for non-Muslims.
Like everything connected with this election, the allocation of seats for women has also been controversial, and it has been a matter of dispute among every party. A brief look at the candidates chosen by the parties for the reserved seats would reveal a lot of familiar last names- indicating that the allocation of seats was not made merely on merit, but by the candidate’s familial connection to senior politicians. PML-N is the worst culprit- with its candidates including Marriyam Aurangezeb’s mother, Tahira Aurangezeb, Ali Pervaiz’s wife and Khawaja Asif’s niece and wife. PTI is also not innocent in perpetuating familial politics- the MNAs elected on PTI ticket from KP include Nafisa Khattak and Sajda Zulfiqar, sister-in-law and niece of Pervaiz Khattak respectively.
The reserved seats for women are a necessity, considering the economic and social factors which discourage women from stepping into the public sphere. Without this quota, we would probably see a parliament mostly bereft of women- and thus, undemocratic and unrepresentative. Female parliamentarians have contributed invaluably to the debate and legislation tabled at the parliament- the Women’s Caucus has made many gains in passing female friendly legislation and raising awareness for women’s rights.
However, while the reserved seats has given us extraordinary parliamentarians in the past, the importance and integrity of the reserved seats are comprised due to the allegations that they are handed out because of connections and not performance. Political parties handing the majority of those seats to sisters or wives of major politicians does not help in mitigating that reputation. This leads to reserve seat candidates not being taken seriously and not being granted the required funds or opportunities that other parliamentarians have.
This is not to say that the female candidates with political connections do not have the required credentials, as parliamentarians with familial pasts have occasionally shown considerable skill and talent. It is just hoped that the structure of political parties is moulded in such a way that allows equal opportunities to women of all backgrounds and connections.