PESHAWAR: Dealing a blow to the campaign of civil society organisations for the women’s right to vote, the Peshawar High Court on Wednesday dismissed a petition against the alleged disenfranchisement of women in the recent PK-95 Lower Dir by-election over the absence of tangible evidence of ‘ban’ on women voters.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel and Justice Mohammad Daud Khan pronounced the petition dismissal order after hearing preliminary arguments of the petitioners’ lawyer, Shahab Khan Khattak.
The petition was filed by Shabnam, Shamim Sultan and many other women voters, who requested the court to declare the PK-95 by-election on May 7 null and void and order fresh election there insisting not a single woman was allowed to cast vote.
It was filed with the support of civil society organisations, including Aurat Foundation, Strengthening Participatory Organisation, South Asia Partnership Pakistan and Sungi Foundation.
The Election Commission of Pakistan has already taken notice of the matter. However, decision on it is awaited.
The respondents in the petition were ECP through the chief election commissioner; provincial election commissioner; district returning officer and returning officer of PK-95 Lower Dir; and seven contesting candidates including winning candidate Izazul Mulk of Jamaat-i-Islami and runner-up Haji Bahadur Khan of Awami National Party.
Observes petitioners failed to produce tangible evidence of ‘ban’ on women voters in recent Dir by-elections
Lawyer Shahab Khattak said grave violation of the Constitution of Pakistan, Representation of People’s Act and relevant rules had taken place on May 7 as women of the PK-95 constituency were deprived of their right to vote in the by-election.
He said consolidation of votes was done by the returning officer on Form No XVI wherein count of votes of different polling stations was furnished in a consolidated statement and that the statement showed clearly that the number of votes polled by women voters was zero.
The lawyer said PK-95 candidates and elders had made a verbal agreement to stop women from casting vote in by-election.
The bench asked if any petitioner or women voters had approached the presiding officer or filed any complaint with the relevant officials on the matter.
The lawyer replied in negative saying it was already announced that women would not cast vote, so they did not go to polling stations.
When the bench asked if women polling staff was deputed at polling stations, the lawyer replied that they were deputed but as a ‘ban’ on women voters was slapped by candidates and elders, women voters couldn’t go there.
The chief justice observed that when women voters didn’t turn up at polling stations, how the court could interfere in the matter.
The bench asked if the right to vote was a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution.
The chief justice observed that as petitioners didn’t put forth any tangible evidence, how the court would assume that women were barred from voting.
Senator Farooq H Naik, who was present in the court in connection with another case, said Article 25(2) of the Constitution guaranteed that there shouldn’t be any discrimination against the people on the basis of sex.
He said if a man could cast vote, a woman, too, had the same right.
Senior lawyer Abdul Lateef Afridi, who was present in the courtroom, also said when not a single woman had cast vote in by-election, that was a proof of their disenfranchisement.
He said the evidence in question was enough for the court to take note of the matter.
PHC Bar Association president Fida Gul and another lawyer Ijaz Anwar pointed out that there were areas, where male members of a family cast vote but women didn’t.
In a lighter vein, Fida Gul said in the hometown of Lateef Afridi, women didn’t cast vote and even they didn’t make national identity cards for the reason that pictures of applicants are displayed on them.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2015