Counting female voters twice!

Democracy demands transparency, best practices, ethics and equality for all

Sarwar Bari August 01, 2019
Female voters of the Hazara community line up to cast their votes. PHOTO: AFP

Our last parliament reinvigorated General Zia’s draconian measure, though extremely differently. He had made two females equal to one male. And since our parliamentarians appeared to be suffering from a kind of diplopia (seeing two separate or overlapping images of the same object), they made us believe that one female voter is equal to two female voters. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) proved the formula right in its recently released turnout data sheet of the provincial elections held in the Newly Merged Districts. I am not kidding.

All over the world, including Pakistan, turnout in elections is calculated by dividing the total polled votes with the total registered voters. But, to measure the female turnout in Pakistan, a stunning innovation has been made. Instead of using the universally accepted and scientifically correct method (divide polled ballots with total registered voters), women’s total polled votes have been divided with the total polled votes including male votes in each constituency.

Naturally, by doing this, female turnout will jump to a higher percentage. This flawed calculation is being protected by clause 9 of the Elections Act 2017. It says, “if the turnout of women voters is less than 10% of the total votes polled in a constituency, the commission may presume that the women voters have been restrained through an agreement from casting their votes and may declare, polling at one or more polling stations or election in the whole constituency, void.” Mischief remains mischief despite legal protection. But we can’t blame the election authorities alone as this lacuna is an outcome of the parliamentarians’ shrewd imagination.

The previous parliament (the current one almost consists of the same old faces) who had unanimously passed the Elections Act 2017 cheated not only women of this country but also managed to blind women activists, NCSW, female MPs, the media and all of us (I blame myself too) who proudly claim that we are the experts and whistle blowers on electoral issues. We failed miserably to point out a very, very simple difference between the two important terms — voter turnout (which is always calculated on the basis of total registered voters) and the unprecedented invention of the 21st century.

Many discoveries took place by chance. This too falls in this category — on July 21st a day after the polling the ECP uploaded a table showing turnout of male and female voters. Amazingly, in six constituencies it was showing higher turnout of females than their male counterparts. I told myself this can’t be true. I even mentioned that in two of my TV Talks. Preconceived notions and prejudices very often block our sense of balance. First, I thought the ECP was responsible for this mess. Reading of the above-mentioned clause (9) revealed the real wrongdoer. I had to change my opinion.

On 24th July, the BBC Urdu Service produced a story on the female turnout. Perhaps the journalist couldn’t bother to read the law and consequently he would blame the ECP for inflating the female turnout. This pressured me to analyse the issue, find the root cause(s) of the problem and its impact. And then suggest a way forward.

The table below reveals trick and the absurdity of the clause 9 of the Elections Act 2017 in calculation of female turnout.



The table clearly shows that two distinct methods have been used for the calculation of male and female turnouts. If we apply the universal formula for the calculation of female turnout, in two constituencies (PK107 and PK 112) the turnout drops to 7% each which is lower than the 10% threshold. Naturally, the ECP has to go for repolling in these two constituencies. But, the ECP can deny holding of fresh polling because of the clause 9. And if we apply the formula that is being used for the calculation of female turnout, the male turnout in all constituencies will jump to a level that Pakistan has never experienced in the past. Just read row 3 of the table. For instance, in PK107 and PK112 the male turnout would reach to more than 83%.

Cambridge dictionary defines absurdity as ‘the quality of being stupid and unreasonable.’ Isn’t the clause 9 an extreme form of absurdity. The parliamentarians want us to believe in this absurdity. This absurdity had also made its trick in the GE2018. I found at least six constituencies where real female turnout was less than 10%. These are NA10-Shangla 1, PK20 Buner, PK28, Battagram, NA44, and NA 48.

Democracy demands transparency, best practices, ethics and equality for all. The clause 9 blatantly violates all of them and our constitution too. Consider article 25A — (1) All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. (2) There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. The clause 9 also profoundly goes against the core values of the ECP i.e. inclusiveness, transparency and equality, etc. Isn’t it shameless that when it suits to male rulers, they would made two women equal to one man and when it doesn’t, they would count one female twice? But each time it goes against women’s interest.

It had taken us decades to get gender disaggregated turnout data and to stop misogynist leaders from denying women of their right to vote. These gains had been reversed right at the time of the giving. Proverbially, our ruling elites took two steps backward, while pretending that they were taking a step forward. The so-called women movement failed to watch their steps too.

Finally, while the ECP, NADRA in collaboration with the UNDP and local CSOs are busy mobilising women across the country for CNICs registration (as this will automatically make them voter), simultaneously their numbers are not counted fairly and justly. And what is the point of doing all that! Amending the clause 9. The other route is to approach the higher judiciary. Silence is no option anymore. The methods to treat diplopia of the ruling elites.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2019.

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