Few voters turn up for Local Government by-polls

Women barred from voting in some districts


Women voters at Muslim Shaheen Town. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS

SHABQADAR/ HANGU/ KOHAT/ PESHAWAR/ BANNU/ PABBI: Not many voters were seen at polling stations on Sunday during the local government by-elections, a multimillion rupees activity held across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The turnout remained low despite heavy security deployment and solid arrangements on part of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

In Peshawar, for six slots in village/neighbourhood councils, the ECP set up 11 polling stations. Ten candidates, two for each slot, were contesting.

Elections for five general seats were contested in Mattani in Town- IV of the city, and one on the women seat in Ghareebabad where voter turnout was low. However, an ECP official said the turnout in Mattani was good – both men and women came to cast votes.

In neighbourhood council-105 of Ward-37 in Ghareebabad, the contest was between Zuhra Bibi, a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf backed candidate, and Rukhsana Javed. Zuhra Bibi got 130 votes, while Javed could only bag one vote. Three votes were rejected.

Reluctant candidate

“A woman in Ghareebabad wanted to withdraw her candidacy on election day but that was not possible as according to the rules she had to withdraw 72 hours ahead of polling day,” an ECP official, seeking anonymity, said. “The turnout was low in Ghareebabad because the other candidate was not willing to contest.”

A Lazy Sunday

Polling stations set up in Law College, University of Peshawar, and a school of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) looked deserted as the voter turnout was very low there.

The presiding officers heading the three polling stations in the vicinity said they started polling at 8am, but the first voter came after two hours.



“The first voter showed up and cast her vote at 10am,” Shaheen Akhtar, a presiding officer at the women’s polling station in PCHIR, told The Express Tribune. Akhtar said she was satisfied with the arrangements as 61 security officials, including two women constables, were deployed there and 10 lady health workers were present.

Faqeer Hussain, a polling agent, was of the opinion women would be busy in household chores because it was a Sunday, which is why they could not go out to vote.

Another reason for the low turnout is the frequent changes in the dates of the Election Day. “Earlier we ran our campaign for January 23, but the election was postponed due to the Bacha Khan University attack, then we campaigned for January 28, but that was also not finalised and then all of a sudden a new date, February 21, was announced which affected the turnout,” Hussain said.

Other people believed turnout was low because Sunday was when people usually attend marriages, often outside their constituencies. Hardly 15 votes were cast till 1pm at the women’s polling station which had 1,871 registered voters.

At the two polling stations for men at Law College—with 2,525 registered voters each—hardly 65 votes were cast in five hours. “[The] police outnumbered the voters,” quipped a police official deployed at Law College.

When asked about the turnout, Election Commissioner for Peshawar district Inayatullah Khan Wazir said the turnout was good in Mattani. “I personally visited all the eight polling stations in Mattani and the turnout was good at polling stations for men and women,” he said.

About the security arrangement he said, “I was not expecting that much deployment in Peshawar because of VIP movements and security for programmes attended by VIPs,” he said. The ECP inspection teams visited polling stations and observed the process.



Unofficial results started trickling in later in the evening from districts, including Peshawar. However, not all were in by the time this report was filed.

In Mattani

In Surizai Bala, Asad Ahmed won with 489 votes, defeating Faisal Mehmood. In Mattani Tokar Khel, the one seat being contested was won by Ibne Ameen with 892 votes. In Mattani Chajokhel, two seats were contested; Murad won with 338 votes while Niaz Ali won the other seat with 314. In Gulshanabad, Zarwali won with 492 votes.

Polling in districts

In Abbottabad, polling was interrupted by fights. In Dingi union council of Haripur, groups clashed over canvasing.  Voter turnout across Hazara Division remained between 25 to 40%.

The seat in Battagram union council in Charsadda was vacated by Zafar Ali Khan after he became the tehsil nazim for Shabqadar.

According to unofficial results, the seat was won by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl’s Mufti Tahir who bagged 2,399 votes defeating Qaumi Watan Party’s Zakaullah.

Disenfranchised

The Battagram union council was considered a stronghold of QWP, but the victory of a JUI-F candidate will be a setback for the party.

In Hangu, not a single woman voted in Tal and some women were prevented from voting in a village in Hazara Division.

There were reports from Bannu, Kohat and Pabbi of scuffles or women being barred from voting.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd,  2016.

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