ISLAMABAD: The EU Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) said that despite the positive legal changes, women, minorities and other marginalised groups remain under-represented in the electoral process in the country.
The mission acknowledged that women generally came out to vote on July 25. However, it observed that women in some constituencies were either barred from polling or had low participation.
According the preliminary report by the EUEOM, there were more women candidates this time due to the five per cent mandatory quota but the female voters were under-represented.
Women were reportedly restricted from voting in at least eight constituencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Punjab. However, the statutory ten per cent threshold for women in some constituencies was not reached.
“We were pleased that so many women came out and voted in the polling stations that we observed, although, we are concerned that this was not the case everywhere in the country … After all, five per cent quota for women candidates is just a starting point and more in winnable seats would be welcomed,” said Ms Jean Lambert, who headed the EU Parliament’s election observation delegation to Pakistan.
EUEOM observed that several candidates reported very serious allegations of physical harassment and verbal abuse during the campaign period.
“Female candidates were to a large degree invisible in the media. Neither political parties nor media, including the state-run, explicitly encouraged the equality of women’s participation in public and political life,” the report said.
However, the observers acknowledged that the gap between the male and the female electorate has been slightly reduced with women making up 44 per cent of the 105,955,407 electorate.
In erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), the registration of women increased by 66 per cent from 2013.
Apart from women, minorities, persons with disabilities and transgender are also still largely hampered from participating in the electoral process, the mission said.
The mission said that the registration of non-Muslim voters rose by 30 per cent to 3.63 million from 2.7 million in 2013.
However, it observed that the allocation of seats did not prompt effective representation if their elected representatives are not linked to their constituencies.
Similarly, it noted that Ahmedis are still registered on a separate electoral roll, which it said was a ‘clear disenfranchisement’ of 167,500 Ahmadi voters.
“Pakistan is yet to fulfil its international obligations regarding equality of electoral rights to all minority citizens.”
The people with disabilities are also largely hampered from participation in the electoral process.
There are 3.3 million people with disabilities in the country but 165,927 are registered as voters. There were also three candidates with disability in the election.
“There are lengthy CNIC registration procedures, inadequate access to postal voting and difficulties in accessing polling stations,” the report said, adding voter material in Braille was tested in 300 polling stations.
“We wish to commend in particular the commitment of the voters to cast their ballots, particularly those with disabilities who displayed great courage to make sure they could participate, often in places where access to the polling station was very difficult,” said Lambert, who visited several polling stations in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Jhelum on July 25.
“Although, we did note that ramps had been installed in some polling stations, we urge those concerned to continue to work on improving access.” It observed that international standards related to persons with disabilities are not yet enshrined in the domestic law.
The mission said transgender people also faced social stigma and financial constraints to their full participation in the election.
“Only four transgender candidates competed in the elections and faced fierce competition, as well as serious harassment,” the report said.