LAHORE: A seminar was held where findings and recommendations of election assessment missions to the LG elections in the four provinces were presented.

It was organised by Democracy Reporting International (DRI).

Many aspects of the LG elections were discussed and participants including media representatives also joined in with their recommendations and experiences. However, two main points seemed to make the focus of the seminar.

The subject of reserved seats was highlighted during the presentation, where vulnerable groups, including women and religious minorities, were mentioned in particular.

The reserved seats, it was said, were temporary special measures which were adopted to improve the political participation of women, minorities and other groups. However, in the local elections they appear to be counter-productive.

In Punjab, around 38 per cent of seats were reserved and not directly elected.

“Because the women and minorities are not elected and are selected instead by citizens, they are not held accountable by the citizens later,” said Hassan Nasir Mirbahar, from DRI.

Mirbahar said in Punjab less than 0.003pc of candidates for general seats were women. Reserved seats, therefore, were not helping women participate in the mainstream.

Most participants agreed that in order to promote political equality, more efforts needed to be made to improve voter registration of women and minorities, and more efforts needed to develop women’s polling stations. It was also noted that the condition of women’s polling stations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was deplorable, with little space and less security. There was also need to include more women in electoral management.

Meanwhile, minority representative Samson Salamat added that the problems that minorities faced were many. The Ahmedis for instance were excluded from elections, and other minorities often had to take oath to promote the Islamic identity of Pakistan.

He said because of reserved seats, these representatives were not true representatives but in fact party puppets, who could not work on their own, least of all address their community’s concerns.

“It is unacceptable that a group of men belonging to the mainstream religion have to decide who to select on behalf of the minorities,” he said.

DRI also highlighted positive aspects of the electoral processes, including that they were predominantly competitive with citizens having choices over whom to vote for and also increasing helpful initiatives by the ECP.

The DRI speakers and participants discussed various issues that hindered implementation of an electoral process in line with Pakistan’s international commitments under international law, including the lack of results data.

The assessment and recommendations, it was stated, were an important step in decentralisation and strengthening democracy in the country, as well as a chance to test and develop electoral practices before the next general elections in 2018.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2016

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