ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs will take up on Monday an important bill seeking gender-based segregation of polled votes and re-election in a constituency where women’s turnout remained less than 10 per cent.
The bill titled Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2016, seeking an amendment to the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1976, was introduced in the Senate by Sherry Rehman of the PPP on March 7.
The bill had been referred to the committee by the Senate when it was not opposed by the government.
The members of the committee headed by PPP’s Saeed Ghani are also set to hold discussion “on the issues relating to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)”, according to the agenda.
The mover has suggested nine amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1976, with an aim to ensure maximum women’s participation in elections and discourage the practice of banning women’s voting by political parties through announced or unannounced agreement.
Ms Rehman has suggested an amendment to Section 38 of the RPA 1976 which calls for “ensuring that the ballot papers are thereafter disaggregated according to sex” at the time of vote-count.
A new sub-section 5A suggested in Section 39 states: “All the ballot papers shall also be shown disaggregated by sex in the consolidated statement.”
An important amendment to Section 42 of the RPA 1976 says: “In any constituency in which less than 10% registered female voters have voted in the election, the Commission (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.”
Similarly, the PPP senator has suggested insertion of a new sub-section 7 in Section 78 of the RPA which defines “corrupt practice” during the election.
The new sub-section reads as “A person is guilty of corrupt practices if he has knowledge of; been privy to; or has personally or through only 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 bill also provides a right of appeal to a person aggrieved by the decision of the ECP to declare re-polling in any constituency on the basis of the proposed law.
“If the Commission declares the election in a constituency void, any person aggrieved by a decision of the ECP within fifteen days of the announcement of the decision, 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 Objects and Reasons” attached to the bill says that “there have been numerous reports at 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,” says the bill.
Moreover, she says, “the bill seeks to make available gender disaggregated data, as not only an effective, transparent and clear method of documentation, but also as 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.”
Given that consistent and regular data allows for effective monitoring of progress as regression, it is necessary that Pakistan ensures that this kind of data exists in Pakistan to enhance democratic structures and procedures, says the PPP senator.