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> Consultative Workshop

January 10, 2007
Hotel Peral Continental, Peshawar


A Consultative Workshop was held by PILDAT at Peshawar on Wednesday, January 10, 2007 on the topic of Improving Participation of Women, Youth and Minorities in Electoral Processes in Pakistan. This workshop at Peshawar was the last in the series of 4 consultative workshops held at the provincial capitals of the country, supported by the UNDP under its project of “Strengthening Electoral Processes to Ensure Greater Participation, SDEPP II” and brought together representatives of Women, Youth and non-Muslims to discuss various barriers in the way of participation of women, youth and minorities in electoral processes in Pakistan and how these impediments can be removed


Female and male members of Provincial Assembly of NWFP, representatives of Religious Minorities and Youth as well as civil society groups participated in the Consultative Workshop. In addition, the Provincial Election Commission of NWFP was represented by staff members while media organisations were also part of the consultative process.


Overview of the Workshop: Participants of the workshop generally felt that it is the cultural barriers, a feudal mind set and a lack of trust in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that contributes to the declining levels of electoral participation of women, youth and non-Muslims. The mindset of men as heads of families is such that they disallow effective participation of women in the electoral process. Combined with the role of local imams of mosques who issue fatwas that women participation in elections is against the Islamic injunctions, very little space is left for women to even attempt to participate in elections. Even where women have been elected at various levels of local government to fill women seats under quota, it is the men who represent them in meetings and various functions they are supposed to carry out as a responsibility of that post. The government, it appears, allows that to happen as without the consent of the local government functionaries, women elected representatives can not be represented by their unelected family relations. Religion and traditions are overlapped time and again to the disadvantage of women


Women voters are further disenfranchised when they can not even be registered as voters without computerised national identity cards (CNIC). Photograph of a citizen is compulsory for the making of CNIC while women, due to the cultural conditions of various areas in the NWFP, do not uncover their faces for a photograph. NADRA and the ECP have been contacted by various Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) active in the area for a redressal of this issue but no significant solution has been brought forward, they believe. Participants questioned that when new CNICs were issued to citizens at the age of 18, why was there a need for preparing new electoral rolls? Participants also felt that citizens no longer have a faith in the efficacy of their vote. When a President in Uniform, as the head of state and a non-partisan symbol of unity of federation has started to go around canvassing for the party in government, people have no faith that even the forthcoming election will be held on free and fair basis. They feel that the military and the intelligence agencies play a leading role in rigging the election. Not absolving political parties of their role in election, it was pointed out that parties in power in a city or province or the country also indulge in “managing” the election through tilting the balance in their favour. The rigging begins right from the preparation of voter-registration lists that the party in power manipulates to register its voters while creating hurdles and barriers to register votes in areas that are perceived to be voters of their opposition parties.


The ECP, it was said, acts as a mere spectator in the entire process while knowing fully well the anomalies created by powers-that-be in the electoral process. The real reform, participants felt, is required not in the powers of the ECP, but its ability to exercise those powers to uphold the law. People will want to exercise the right to vote when they believe ECP has the capacity to hold free, fair, transparent and credible election in the country, they felt. ECP will begin to restore public faith in its powers and abilities as an independent institution if it starts by taking an action against the President of Pakistan’s canvassing to people to vote for the ruling PML.


Quota system for female representation was generally hailed, but a demand was put forward that the process of filling women seats against quotas should change. Instead of selection by political parties, women should directly contest to fill the allotted number of seats. This would ensure women to have real constituencies and would also allow political workers to represent women in the legislatures as opposed to a large majority of women legislators who occupy women seats based on their family ties and associations with party heads.


Youth representatives present on the occasion cited the lack of effective political leadership and effective political performance by political parties as the major reason for their disinterest in politics. The felt that the conduct of political parties, both in government and in opposition, did not encourage them to join politics as voters, candidates or active supporters of parties. Youth was disenfranchised in the voter registration process as only those who turned 18 years of age on January 01, 45%6 were allowed to register. Even though re-registration of youth voters will be allowed extending the limit to include those who turn 18 by January 01, 45%7, it was felt that inclusion in the voters’ registration is a tedious process at the second stage and may not cover the wide spectrum of youth in the society.


Religious Minorities’ social segregation from society was the chief reason for low levels of their communities’ participation in electoral processes. Irregular and incorrect voter-registration in religious minority communities is a major reason why electoral participation of religious minorities was low. Lack of awareness in the community also needs to be dealt with through implementing special awareness campaigns for religious minorities. Whereas the existing quota for seats of religious minorities in the assemblies need to be increased, while seats for religious minorities introduced in the Senate of Pakistan, parties should give tickets to religious minorities to contest direct election. As advised to change the process of election for women against the women reserved seats, the representatives of minority communities demanded the quota seats should be filled through direct election of minority representatives.