That the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has won the NA-4 (Peshawar) by-election for a seat in the National Assembly is no surprise, but it is the results within the result that tell other stories. The election was generally peaceful but the turnout was low against the numbers of registered voters at around 30 per cent. Suspicious voting patterns were observed at 10 polling stations and all the parties with a candidate provided transport — and sometimes more than transport — for their voters. Campaigning and canvassing went on unchecked around polling stations and Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were trialled at 35 polling stations where the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) observed that in 25 of those observed voter secrecy was not maintained.
Whilst there are positives to be derived from an examination of the post-poll statistics there is a very large elephant in the room that ought to be the subject of urgent debate and remedial action. Just 13.8 per cent of the 30 per cent of voters that made it to the polling booth were women. There do not appear to be immediately available figures for the number of women that are registered voters in the NA-4 constituency, so it is not possible to say what the figure of 13.8 per cent represents in terms of registered female voters. It is possible but not probable that the figure is actually a high proportion of registered female voters — as in a majority of women registered to vote did so — though the reality is more likely that women were simply not engaged in the democratic process, were unaware of it or prevented from exercising their fundamental rights as voters.
It will be recalled that in the 2013 elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa there was agreement between the PPP, ANP, JUI-F, PML-N and the JI that women voters would be actively excluded from polling even if they wanted to in some areas, and this had the tacit support of the provincial administration. With the 2018 general election in the foreground it is now for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to ensure that this time around women get to use their vote and that misogynistic ‘agreements’ are a thing of the electoral past.