BY: INAMULLAH KHATTAK
ISLAMABAD – Over 11 million eligible women voters in the country missing from electoral rolls has prompted the civil society groups across the country to announce extending a supporting hand to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in bridging the gender gap in the electoral rolls.
The decision was made in a consultation of civil society groups organized by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) that welcomed the establishment of a working group at the ECP on gender and disability and Commission’s acknowledgment that more than 11 million eligible women voters are still missing from the electoral rolls.
The decision of civil society activists has come at a time when Peshawar High Court (PHC) Thursday issued a verdict about the PK-95 (Lower Dir) by elections in which not a single female voter took part.
The ECP had declared the by-poll in PK-95 as null and void. However, the PHC rejected the decision of the commission and declared the polls as valid.
The civil society activists including liberal political forces in the country supports the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of ECP to challenge the ruling of PHC so that female voters could be encouraged in future to participate fully in election exercises.
The consultation deliberated upon the possible reasons for under-registration of millions of women voters and strategies to address them. The civil society groups offered the ECP, which was represented in the consultation, an active support in identifying the missing women voters and engaging other stakeholders, including media, political parties, NADRA, corporate sector and communities with high under-registration for early registration of missing women voters.
The consultation noted with grave concern that around 11.67 million women voters were missing from the voter lists mainly because they had not been provided with Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) yet.
FAFEN’s analysis shows that the gap has widened by 68,000 voters since General Elections 2013.
The consultation emphasised that efforts should begin on war-footing as less than two years’ time was left before the ECP conducts the next general elections in 2018. It is, therefore, pertinent that the ECP should take all appropriate measures which could help the missing women voters registered at the earliest.
The civil society consultation hoped that ECP’s working group on gender and disability would act quickly to address the issue of under-registration.
The consultation urged the ECP to formalise a comprehensive coordination mechanism with Nadra for effective support in finalising accurate and complete voter lists and initiate voter registration campaign with special focus on women to ensure that maximum women voters are registered to take part in the electoral process.
The groups also emphasised the need for engaging with NADRA with special focus on citizen registration of women from marginalised sections of society and relax its documentation requirements.
Also, the consultation decided to engage in advocacy to introduce amendment in law for incorporating the consent of a fresh voter to address the vote registration issue at the time of applying for CNIC.
The civil society consultation was attended by a group of 14 organisations, officials of ECP and representatives of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial Commission on Status of Women.