ACCORDING to reports, the National Database and Registration Authority has issued more than 40 million computerised national identity cards to women. However, there is still a difference of 3.3 million in these statistics and the tally displayed on the website of the Election Commission of Pakistan. There are also a large number of Pakistanis over the age of 18 who have yet to be entered on the electoral roll. Some political parties have taken up this issue, avowedly wanting to enfranchise, and hoping to enlist the support of, youngsters. Yet even in the case of parties loudly claiming to work for change, a specific thrust for bringing in a greater number of women voters into the equation is sadly missing. According to ECP figures, there are more than 48.4 million male voters in Pakistan, as opposed to 37.3 million female voters. That is a gap of 11 million — three times the size of the electorate in Balochistan, and this is just the start of the story.
The climax to the discriminatory act comes at the polling booth on election day. This is when votes cast by women are lost under the heavy weight of ballots stamped by the males. There are routinely reports about women being stopped from voting as also of polling booths set up for women being used for rigging. Experienced poll watchers say the candidates find it easier to carry out vote fraud at booths for women as opposed to those for male voters where the atmosphere is much more charged and prone to violence and where a more efficient regime to identify the voter is in place. Experience tells us that bogus votes are more likely cast in polling booths for women.
There are many factors that have prevented a more clear analysis of this problem — not least significant a strange ECP policy. There are exclusive polling stations for women in the country as there are those for men. But then outnumbering these are ‘combined’ polling stations with separate booths for men and women where piles of the women’s votes are mixed with those of the men before a count is undertaken. It shouldn’t be too difficult for a reform-driven ECP to count the ballots cast at a women’s booth separately from the ones collected at the men’s booth. This will be in aid of fairer polls and can go a long way in truly enfranchising one half of the Pakistani population.