ISLAMABAD - Had the parties struck an agreement to bar women from casting votes? If not then how is it possible that not a single female voter turned up at polling station? A dozen of similar arguments were raised during a 3-hour long hearing as Election Commission of Pakistan grilled political parties over the controversial by-polls in PK-95 Lower Dir held sans women participation. The ECP during an in-camera hearing on Monday summoned members of political parties that contested the by-election held on May 7, asking them to explain as to why not a single women voter out of the total 53,000 registered female voters cast vote in the process.

The commission has withheld issuing notification of the winner candidate although according to unofficial results, Jmaat Islami (JI) candidate Izazul Mulk Afkari has won the seat by securing nearly 19,000 votes.

Sources privy to Monday's hearing in ECP told The Nation Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (Retd) Sardar Raza Khan and members of the commission were not satisfied with the arguments of political parties regarding the issue of women participation in the exercise.

While JI MNA Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan argued that there is no written document of any agreement struck among contesting candidates regarding barring of women from casting votes, the shrewd CEC Justice (Retd) Raza Khan asked as to how is it possible that family votes of the winning candidate did not turn up at polling station? "How is it possible that 53,000 female voters decided that they would voluntarily not show up at any polling station in PK-95? Even if we believe there was no agreement among parties then why the women relatives of both winning and returned candidates refrained from casting votes?" the CEC kept asking the politicians.

Former MNA and senior leader of Awami National Party (ANP) Bushra Gohar dropped a bombshell during the hearing when she revealed about a mutual verbal agreement among parties against women voters in the constituency not sparing her own party ANP which she said was also part of the understanding. "How can we produce a verbal agreement before the court as evidence? Is there any eye witness to the development? Bushra Gohar does not belong to Lower Dir so her accusation should not be taken serious," JI MNA Sahibzada Yaqoob burst in the court denying any verbal deal among candidates.

But he argued that since 1985, women have not been taking part in electoral exercise in PK-95 constituency in Khyber Pakhtukhwa province, arguing it was duty of ECP to sensitize women voters to cast votes adding why the commission had been sleeping over the gender discrimination for so many long years in the area.

But Sangeen Khan, a lawyer for ANP argued that the argument of the JI's lawmaker was not genuine as women had cat votes in his favour when he was contesting the election from his constituency. RO that had conducted polls in PK-95 told the court that there was no such evidence that women had been forcibly barred from casting votes in the area, adding polling booth had been established for women voters.

But again there was nobody to satisfy the court as to how it happened that entire women in the constituency willfully agreed not to take part in the election triggering the CEC to summon the candidates and Chief Secretary KP to appear in the court on May 21 in order to reach a conclusion. Insiders and ECP officials told this scribe that the commission was not announcing name of the wining candidate in order to make the issue a test case and to ask lawmakers to legislate properly for safeguarding women votes in future elections.

As Monday's hearing of the case started, speculations ran as the ECOP would declare by-polls in PK-95 as null and void but ECP officials said the step cannot be taken as there was no evidence of forcible stoppage of women from going to polling stations.