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Pakistan election chief nullifies male-only election

Women barred from voting in district election, says rights commission

ucanews.com reporter, Islamabad

ucanews.com reporter, Islamabad

Updated: June 01, 2015 11:01 PM GMT
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Pakistan election chief nullifies male-only election

Election authorities in Pakistan today nullified the results of a by-election held in a remote district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province last month that barred women from exercising their right to vote.

Masroor Shah, a lawyer representing human rights activists and who challenged the legality of the elections, said that Chief Election Commissioner Justice Sardar Raza Khan has declared the by-elections of Lower Dir null and void and has ordered new elections.

“Women from Dir have testified before the three-member inquiry commission that they were not allowed to vote,” Shah said. “The announcements had been made from a mosque’s loud speakers to stop women from participating in the elections.”

Shah added, “Surprisingly, even the district woman president of one of the contesting parties had not cast her vote."

Aizaz-ul Mulk, a candidate for the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, had won the provincial assembly seat vacated by his party head Siraj ul Haq following his elevation to the Senate.

The constituency has approximately 54,000 registered women voters, but not a single one was allowed to vote on polling day, prompting protests from rights campaigners.

Rights activists led by Farzana Bari, director of the Gender Studies Centre, held a demonstration outside the commission and formally filed a petition to seek cancellation of the male-only election.

“No election can be deemed as open, free and fair and in consonance with the law when the voices of more than half the electorate is stifled, so it is thus bound to be declared null and void,” the petition said.

On Monday, Pakistan’s independent human rights commission condemned the denial of women’s rights to vote in the local government elections held in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province last Saturday.

In its initial findings from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts where observers from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan monitored elections in selected village and urban neighborhood councils, the Commission noted that compared to male voters, very few women reached the polling stations to cast their votes.

Despite the denial by political and religious parties and independent contestants about the traditional agreements to bar women from voting, a very low turnout by female voters indicated that women were not free to exercise their right to franchise, the Commission's findings said.

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