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Pakistanis rally after women barred from voting in local poll

Govt urged to stage fresh election in a district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
Pakistanis rally after women barred from voting in local poll

(AFP Photo/Saeed Khan)

 

Published: May 12, 2015 09:16 AM GMT
Updated: May 11, 2015 10:16 PM GMT

Human rights activists on Monday demanded the nullification of by-election results in a remote district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after women were allegedly barred from voting.

The activists, mostly women, protested outside the country’s Election Commission offices in the capital Islamabad and called for a fresh election in Lower Dir district, a stronghold of the hardline Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami Party.

The constituency has approximately 50,000 registered women voters, but not a single one was allowed to vote on polling day.

Rights campaigners have accused parties that contested the election on May 7 of striking a tacit deal during a Jirga before the polls to stop women from taking part in order to uphold local traditions and Islamic Shariat, which has prevented women from voting in the past.

A Jamaat-e-Islamis candidate won the provincial assembly seat.

Protesters at Monday’s demonstration submitted a petition to the Election Commission, calling on it to nullify the 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.

“Not only should fresh polls be called, action should also be taken against the Jirga, which placed the ban on women’s participation in the political process,” said Farzana Baria, an activist and senior leader of left-win Awami Workers Party.

“Stopping women from voting is a blatant violation of fundamental rights and a crime,” she said. “The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government should investigate and apprehend all those involved.”

Baria said that Jamaat-e-Islami was fine with women’s participation in politics when it suited the organization’s cause.

“On the one hand, Jamaat-e-Islami happily accepts parliamentary seats reserved for women to increase its numerical strength in parliament, and on the other, it bars women from voting in the name of tradition,” she said.

Jamaat-e-Islami chief Siraj ul Haq himself told the media later Monday that his party would try to mobilize women voters in future elections. 

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