ECP urged to ensure women’s access to by-polls in Kohistan

ISLAMABAD, November 22, 2011: The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Tuesday urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to take pro-active measures against any informal agreements among candidates and other local stakeholders to prevent women from voting in the by-election for PK-61 Kohistan-1 in violation of the Constitution, election laws, and international legal obligations.

The ECP has responsibility to keep all female polling stations and booths open as mentioned in the polling scheme.

Media reports suggest that for the by-election in PK-61 on November 24, as in some locations in earlier elections, candidates are conspiring to prevent women from voting.

The ECP has an opportunity now, as reforms and preparations are underway for the next general elections, to demonstrate its commitment to addressing these illegal practices and to enforce the fundamental rights of citizens.

Based on experiences during the 2008 elections and international law and best practice standards protecting equal voting rights, FAFEN has repeatedly recommended that the ECP should ban announcement of results for constituencies where women are prevented from voting in any polling station.  Either the vote counts from those polling stations should be excluded from the compilation of the official result or re-polling should take place in those stations.

Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2010 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1996.  These legal agreements obligate the government, including the ECP, to take all measures necessary to ensure that women’s right to vote can be implemented in practice throughout the country, including in Kohistan.

FAFEN will observe the by-election in Kohistan on November 24 and issue a statement immediately following the vote, noting any observed violations of Pakistan’s law and policy, such as the closure of female polling stations. A lack of women voters could be indicative of candidates’ and community leaders’ agreements to prevent women from voting, especially if stakeholder interviews confirm that such agreements were made.

About FAFEN: FAFEN is a network of 42 civil society organizations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. It is governed by the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability.