By: IFTIKHAR A. KHAN
ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee has passed a bill that on becoming law will require re-election in a constituency where women voters’ turnout remains less than 10 per cent.
The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 2016, seeking an amendment to the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) 1976, had been introduced in the upper house by Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). It was passed by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs which met here on Monday with Senator Saeed Ghani in the chair.
An important amendment to Section 42 of the ROPA 1976 says: “In any constituency in which less than 10 per cent registered female voters have voted in the election, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) shall declare election of such constituency void in accordance with sub-section (1), and order re-polling within thirty days of the declaration of the decision of the Commission.”
A new sub-section, 5A, suggested in Section 39 states: “All the ballot papers shall also be shown disaggregated by gender in the consolidated statement.”
The bill suggests insertion of a sub-section (7) in Section 78 of the ROPA which defines “corrupt practice” during an election. The sub-section reads: “A person is guilty of corrupt practices if he has knowledge of; been privy to; or has personally or through any representative, made an agreement, understanding or promise of any kind, written or unwritten, by which women voters are to be or have been restrained or hindered in casting their votes in any manner whatsoever which may include any type of threat, coercion, force, intimidation or duress.”
The proposed law provides the right of appeal to a person aggrieved by the ECP decision to order re-polling in a constituency on the basis of the proposed law.
“If the commission declares election in a constituency void, any person aggrieved by a decision of the ECP, within fifteen days of the announcement of the decision, may appeal to the Supreme Court for a final decision and the Supreme Court shall give a final decision within fifteen days of the submission of the appeal.”
The statement of objectives and reasons attached to the bill says: “There have been numerous reports during every election in recent years whereby women voters have been restrained from voting in the election as a result of an agreement or understanding between different persons which have included politicians, persons representing political parties, the clergy and leaders of the community.
“This process of systemically disqualifying women is a clear violation of their fundamental rights and amounts to an outright discrimination and negation of rights guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution. This bill seeks to address such barriers.”
Moreover, it says, “the bill seeks to make available gender disaggregated data, not only an effective, transparent and clear method of documentation, but also a tool to identify gender breakdown of voting structures and to identify and understand the number of women voting, the issues they face, how to eliminate them.”