Women across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) were expected to be a tentative swing vote. And in the face of blatant and frequent threats from the Taliban, women still showed up – even in areas considered ‘highly sensitive’ like Badhaber. Some even defied the men of their area to ink their thumbs.
Unfortunately women in certain localities could not exercise their right to vote and in some cases were allegedly manipulated to vote at the behest of candidates. Ban for women voters also surfaced at certain localities at the eleventh hour.
However, when the final results turn up, by their presence or their absence, women voters would have directly contributed to the next Government of Pakistan.
The turnout in NA-1 was in the thousands. This was especially significant as women were seen forming long queues outside polling stations – even in areas such as Shaikhabad, Zagarabad, Afrido Garhi and Rasheedabad where women were usually not allowed to step out of their homes.
Voting slowed down substantially at the polling station at Faqirabad Government College as the presiding officer did not show up. Women who were not on the same list as the rest of their family members (a common complaint) tended to not go out on their own to vote.
Many political parties had been predicting the female vote could be a game changer for poll outcomes. NA-1 might be one area where this might be an actual possibility.
Men in five villages on the outskirts of Peshawar did not ‘allow’ women to vote as per “local tradition”. Landi Bala, Landi Payan, Sangu, Achini and Haji Banda lie adjacent to Shalober, Khyber Agency and women polling stations there remained deserted throughout Election Day.
All five lie within NA-2 and PK-6. Their inhabitants proudly claim women have not been allowed to cast votes in any election in the history of the villages.
Local elder and former nazim Wahidullah Khan told The Express Tribune previously, villagers would unanimously decide not to allow female participation in elections, but this year no such decision was taken. However, women still did not turn up to vote.
Awami National Party (ANP) representative Shaukat Khan expressed a similar opinion. “It is not our tradition (women voting) and I think people respect it.”
Rahmat Ali, another elder, disagreed. He pointed out “nearly all surrounding villages let women vote” because not doing so was “against the local tradition.”
There were approximately 1,500 females registered to vote in the list provided by the Election Commission Pakistan (ECP) to the Landi Bala polling station. “Not a single vote has been cast,” said the polling officer who had been there since 6am.
Locals observed the turnout for male voters was ‘record; but nothing new for women voters.’
The constituency showed strength of force in the face of threats by those claiming voting was ‘anti-Islam’ and thronged to polling stations to vote.
In addition to the expected male voters, a surprisingly large number of women turned up to cast their ballots. This was short-lived as after 11am female polling was banned at a majority of stations with the consent of political parties.
“I did not allow my wife to visit the polling station due to Taliban threats. But I was in a state of shock after seeing a number of women casting their vote,” a voter from Pasanni village at the NA-4/PK-10 polling station bordering Frontier Region Peshawar told The Express Tribune over the phone, requesting anonymity.
Women turned up in large numbers at the Government Higher Secondary School in Badhaber – to the point that the army was called in to quell fights. Frontier Constabulary and the police were already present in large numbers and were found unnecessarily crowding the stations.
According to voters, a fight broke out between ANP and the Pakistan Peoples Party workers, at which point the candidates arrived to intervene, making things worse. The army eventually dispersed the media and the extraneous men to take control of the situation, after which polling stopped. Till the filing of this report, it could not be determined if polling resumed.
In Government Girls Primary School Garhi Qamardeen, PK-6, “only five females used their right to vote, while the others went back. I don’t know why, but people said political parties had agreed to prevent women from taking part in the elections,” said Shabana, the presiding officer.
While women voted at the Government Middle School Hazar Khwani, an undue influence of policemen could be noted in the female polling booth. They were seen scolding women, ferrying them inside booths and crowding entrances.
Consequently, polling stopped midway, amidst accusations of the ANP interfering because of a perceived Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) victory.
Elsewhere in K-P
In NA-11 Mardan-III, male voters at two polling stations at the Government Middle School Surhabai-Rustam decided not to allow women to cast ballots at the combined station.
There were reports of brawls at NA-12 Swabi-I, which broke out following frequent visits by a candidate to the women’s polling station.
Polling booths were shifted without notice at the eleventh hour from Government Girls Primary School to a high school in another locality. Stuck without transport, many women voters had to turn back without voting.
In a last minute decision, women voters were barred from casting ballots in Paharkhel, NA-27 Lakki Marwat. It was a call made by tribal elders headed by Sharifullah and Goharzad.
Men forcefully stopped women from casting votes in various villages in NA-28 Buner. “In Dherai, Malakpur and Matwanai, elders unanimously decided not to allow women to cast votes. The decision was accepted by all political parties too,” said Shaukat Yousafzai, a local reporter.
Reports indicated women were not allowed to vote in Nogram. However, polling went smoothly in the rest of Buner where men and women participated enthusiastically.
In Frontier Region (FR) Peshawar, not a single woman turned up, despite announcements made by the administration urging females to cast their votes.
Across Swat (NA-29 and NA-30), women were seen participating, in spite of issues reported in many tehsils.
In Kabal and Matta, workers and political agents of certain political parties reportedly forced women to vote in their favour. After voters complained, the army was called in to streamline the polling process, according to Fazal Wadood, a resident of Kabal.
Turnout in many female polling stations was very low, but for the first time in history, all the female polling stations were functional and had women polling.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2013.