Women on the ballot paper

Penalty for non-compliance of Section 206 of Elections Act, 2017 is ineligibility for allotment of election symbol

January 17, 2024


The ECP’s recent efforts to improve women’s representation among election candidates are laudable, but it remains to be seen if it will be enforceable. The ECP is urging — not ordering — political parties to ensure they are in compliance with Section 206 of the Elections Act, 2017, which requires party chiefs to certify that at least 5% of their total candidates for general seats are women.

The penalty for non-compliance is ineligibility for allotment of an election symbol. However, the rule is difficult to enforce due to several reasons including: the timeline of an election cycle, which makes it possible to nominate and then swap out women for ‘electable’ men; and the fact that only major parties would even need to observe the rule as many smaller parties only field a handful of candidates. It is also worth noting that none of the 12 parties represented in the last National Assembly met the condition. Also, even if the ECP is willing to go through all of the court cases that enforcing the representation rule would entail, forcing parties to just run a certain number of female candidates could also be counterproductive. They could just nominate women at random on unwinnable seats and then spend nothing to promote these candidates, thus meeting the legal condition while doing nothing to improve women’s participation in decision-making.

The act should actually be reworked to ensure that higher representation of women on the ballot paper is also required at lower, grassroots levels. In the US, which is a developed democracy with no candidate on gender quotas, women are most represented at local level — county, city council, school board, etc. Over several election cycles, many women went from lower levels to top-level politics, thus working their way to Congress and other high offices instead of being given seats, often based only on their familial relations, which is usually the case here. Women who have already earned voters’ respect at local level are more likely to make impressive and deserving candidates when they decide to run for higher offices.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2024.

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