- ECP to enroll 12 million marginalised women voters
The Election Commission of Pakistan may have its shortcomings and carping critics, but its recent campaign to register women voters languishing in the political void, in conjunction with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and civil society organisations, is much to be lauded. Ever since World War 1, which perforce drew domestic women to the factories of the West, there was still a protracted struggle before the legal right to vote as equals was won, in 1920 in the US and 1928 in the UK. Pakistan lacks its equivalent of committed Suffragettes and their intense will to action, so it falls on the shoulders of Parliament, politicians, political parties, and concerned government agencies to remedy the appalling situation of eligible women voters being left out in the cold for various reasons, mostly unsound, self-serving, chauvinistic and bigoted.
According to the 2017 population census, there is a slight gap in number of men (106.million or 51 percent) and women (101.3 million or 48.76 percent of the total population), but in political terms, this translates into an embarrassing yawning abyss. The ECP’s September 2017 electoral rolls show that out of 97.02 million registered voters, 54.6m were men (56.27 percent) while women numbered only 42.42m (43.73 percent) and there are 12.17 million women entitled to vote, but are excluded from the political process. The ECP is tackling the biggest culprit, the compulsory national identity card, and is facilitating and fast-tracking their issuance, starting from the least–enrolled districts, in time for the 2018 elections. It is also an unfortunate fact that all mainstream political parties collaborate with local clerics and community leaders to prevent women from voting, especially in remote areas of KP and Balochistan.
Parliament has moved some essential amendments in the Representation of the People’s Act 1976, such as disqualifying candidates who restrain women voters and declaring an election where the women vote is less than a certain percentage, null and void. The present system of 60 reserved seats in the Lower House should also be based on direct suffrage, as the former does not really empower, apart from being perceived as an ersatz popular mandate.