There seems to be hope left for women enfranchisement and voter rights; but this certainly does not come from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). After complaints by women voters that they were deliberately stopped from voting at polling centres in the by-elections for a tehsil council seat in Lower Dir, Peshawar High Court turned down the ECP’s request to declare non-maintainable a petition challenging the alleged disenfranchisement of women. The petitioners alleged that of the total of 6,286 registered women voters in the said union council, not a single woman cast a vote, as all the political candidates conspired together, in a marriage of patriarchy, to keep the women out.
Thankfully, the legislature in Pakistan is progressive and developed enough to ensure action against such bigotry. Article 25 of the Constitution holds every citizen of the country equal before the law, and section 9 of Chapter 3 of the Elections Act 2017, which the petitioners depended upon, it is stated that below 10 % female votes will mean that women voters have been restrained through an agreement and the Commission has the power to declare the elections void.
ECP’s only defence was a procedural one; stating that the Elections Act, 2017, was not applicable to the local government polls as these polls were conducted under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act, 2013. It is astounding why the ECP would take up such an argument; when in 2015, the ECP itself declared the Lower Dir by-elections void because of the deliberate exclusion of women from voting. ECP has shown an abysmal record this year; it exercises due diligence when it comes to political slingshots disguised as cases, but cannot take action where fundamental rights or disqualifying banned outfits are concerned.
Proper condemnation should also be due to the parties concerned, who skirt the constitution to deprive rights of women, with confidence. This is not the first time that parties like Jamat-i-Islami form unholy alliances with others to bar women’s rights. These parties and their allies, who treat human rights as opportunism which can be discarded when inconvenient, should receive a warning for their repeated skirting of the law; instead of the ECP siding with them.
On the anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, we recalled how far women’s rights have gone, that a female prime minister could be remembered and esteemed so much. Unfortunately, when our women still cannot vote, it appears that we still have a long way to go.