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Role of women, minorities in polls discussed

PESHAWAR: Participants of a workshop here on Wednesday blamed a conservative mindset, lack of political environment and mistrust on the military government holding free and fair elections for the declining level of electoral participation of women, youth and minorities in the country. Participants from academia, non-governmental organisations, politicians and the media at the consultative workshop organised by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency suggested that the political parties needed to increase political awareness among women, youth and religious minorities.

The ulema, instead of discouraging them, should play a role for advancing their participation in the society and they should be given leadership posts in the parties, they said. “As a president in military uniform, a non-partisan symbol of unity of the federation, has started canvassing for a political party in the government, people have no faith in the forthcoming elections being free and fair,” a participant said.

The participants alleged that the intelligence agencies played a vital role in rigging elections and the parties in power also used unfair means. They alleged that the Election Commission acted as a mere spectator in the process. People would want to exercise their right to vote when they believed that the commission had the capacity to hold free, fair, transparent and credible elections, said a participant, Mumtaz Bangash.

Religious leaders and the men with a conservative mindset disallowed effective participation of women in the electoral process in the name of traditions and religion, Shehbaz Shinwari, a politician from Kohat, said. Even where women had been elected in the local governments under quota, their men relatives represented them in the council sessions, alleged Uzma Mehboob of the Aurat Foundation.

A large number of women had been disenfranchised as they could not be registered as voters without computerised national identity cards, a participant of the workshop, Shazia Hina, said. Instead of selection by political parties, women should directly contest for the allotted seats, said Shumaila Tabassum, a councillor. Youth representatives from the University of Peshawar cited lack of effective political leadership and performance by the parties as the major reason for their disinterest in politics.

The conduct of political parties, both in the government and opposition and violence on the election day discouraged the youth from actively participating in the polls, said Rafia from Karak. Only those youth who were at least 18 years of age on Jan 1, 2006, had been registered for the next election, a participant said. The participants said awareness campaigns regarding the electoral process should be launched for the minorities. The quota for the minorities in the assemblies needed to be increased, they suggested.

They said the parties should allocate a percentage of seats for direct election of women. They said there should be a requirement of educational qualification for women members of union councils. It was also suggested that direct elections should be held for the seats reserved for women and minorities. The participants said facilities and security arrangements should be improved at the women’s polling stations.

They said the ban on student unions should be lifted as they were the most effective forum for political grooming of the youth. A percentage of general seats should be reserved for candidates from minorities by each party and non-Muslims should be allowed to hold key positions in the country, they said. They said all electoral laws should be extended to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Source: Dawn