THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE, ISLAMABAD, 12th SEPTEMBER 2013:
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had cancelled last month’s by-election in two Nowshera and Lakki Marwat districts following reports that women were disenfranchised in the two National Assembly constituencies.
Interestingly however, the ECP inquiries found no evidence indicating that women were barred from voting in the two constituencies. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur Rehman faction) rejected the findings, alleging that these were influenced by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government.
“If the ECP accepts the inquiry reports it would mean the provincial government was pressurising it and the JUI-F would protest it,” said the party’s spokesperson Jan Achakzai said.
In a statement he alleged that the K-P’s ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in connivance with local elders had clearly disenfranchised women in the by-elections in NA-5 (Nowshera) and NA-27 (Lakki Marwat).
Achakzai alleged that in NA-27 women were not allowed to cast their votes at around 23 polling stations whereas proxy votes were cast at 30 polling stations yet the turnout for women voters remained below 35%.
“The Peshawar High Court (PHC) had ordered re-polling in these constituencies because of the low turnout of women voters,” he added.
However, the reports by special inquiry commissions formed on the directions of the ECP found that women in the two constituencies did not cast their votes at will.
The commissions interviewed all relevant authorities and individuals responsible for the conduct of by-elections, including police officials deployed at polling stations. “Even the nongovernmental organisations that monitored the polling testified that women were not barred from casting votes,” said an official of the ECP quoting from the commissions’ reports.
The women or their representatives informed the commissions’ officials that they did not cast their votes in the May 11 elections too. They were not pressurised or coerced by anyone, the ECP inquiries revealed. The commission investigating elections in NA-27 stated that women voters’ turnout was over 27%.
“The ECP has not even one per cent doubt on the authenticity of the two reports’,” said the ECP official. He said the reports would be submitted before the PHC on the next hearing. If the court accepts the reports, it would ask the ECP to officially announce the results from the two constituencies withdrawing its earlier orders of re-poll at certain polling stations.
The court could still maintain its earlier order of re-poll at almost 18 polling stations in the two constituencies. If the ECP cancels re-poll and announces results, it would mean a defeat for Maulana Fazl’s brother Attaur Rehman, the JUI-F candidate contesting from NA-27 whereas PTI’s candidate will be declared winner.