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Restrictions on women voters: Court stays results in Lakki Marwat, Nowshera

PESHAWAR: Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan on Thursday stopped the Election Commission of Pakistan from declaring the results of the by-elections in two National Assembly constituencies from Nowshera and Lakki Marwat by issuing a stay order over restrictions on women voters.

While taking a suo moto notice of a complaint about restrictions on women voters, the chief justice ordered the extension of the polling time until 6:30pm in the 18 polling stations of NA-5, Nowshera and NA-27, Lakki Marwat directing the authorities concerned to ensure the maximum participation of women and observed that in case women voters did not turn up during the extended polling time, ECP arrange the re-polling in the two constituencies.

He directed the relevant high court office to list the complaint as a petition for hearing by a division bench within 10 days.

The single-member bench also observed that those stopping women from casting votes in polling stations in question be dealt with strictly and arrested if offences were cognizable.

It observed that the decision taken by male members of the family/ area about casting of women vote was against the Constitution and the law both and was also an offence because it amounted to interruption and interference in the election process by directly and indirectly preventing a voter from casting her vote.

Despite closure of the high court due to public holiday in Peshawar, the chief justice took notice of the issue on the complaint of in charge of the country’s by-election monitoring cell Sofia Waqar Khattak, wherein she had referred to broadcasting of the news item by different television channels regarding denial of the right to vote to women in nine polling stations of Nowshera and similar number of stations in Lakki Marwat.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief secretary, home secretary, IGP, District police officer Nowshera and other officials turned up on court notice.

The chief justice observed that the women voters were denied their right to vote albeit, the polling staff and all facilities required for that purpose were full in place to facilitate them to cast their votes freely and in a secure and safe manner, however, domination of the man society and so-called elders of the area restrained women voters from exercising their fundamental right. He observed that the fact was verified from the district returning officers and returning officers of the two constituencies.

The court was informed that after the chief justice took notice in Nowshera the elders of the area agreed and the women voters were taken out to cast their vote and polling process was running smoothly.

The bench directed that to ensure that maximum women voters were able to cast their vote the closing time for the polling in the said polling stations was extended to 06:30pm, however, during the extended time foolproof security should be ensured.

It ordered that the DRO and RO, Nowshera immediately report to the Chief Election Commissioner and to the high court the result of the polled votes of these polling stations. It was added that the election commission should not notify the result of NA-5, Nowshera-I in the Gazette Notification nor it should be officially or unofficially announced unless it is ensured that maximum women registered voters were extended opportunity to cast their vote whether it is by today 06.30 PM or on any subsequent date to be arranged by commission for this purpose.

About Lakki Marwat, the bench observed that it was reported by the DRO that elders and some religious leaders have agreed and have brought women voters after the High Court took notice to poll their votes in some polling stations but with low turn out of women voters.

It added that the DRO and RO had reported that in the said polling stations no women voter could cast vote because of the earlier settlement between the parties and therefore, the ECP was directed not to notify in official gazette the result of NA-27 Lakki Marwat until arrangements were made on a subsequent date to be fixed by the ECP and it was ensured that all women voters were given free will and choice with full security arrangement.