IN a country that gave the Muslim world its first woman prime minister, it is surprising to see opposition to measures designed to bring out the women’s vote. A proposal to order re-election in any constituency where women have cast less than 10pc of the vote has been under discussion for a while now, but is being resisted by the JUI-F and the Jamaat-i-Islami. Both parties claim the proposal amounts to “forcing women to vote” and such mandatory measures should be avoided. But in a country like Pakistan, where it is so important to increase women’s political participation and where their right to vote is not always respected, it makes perfect sense for there to be a requirement that a minimum threshold of women’s votes be present in any election for it to be considered fair and representative. We need more robust assurances that parties have not colluded to suppress the women’s vote in certain constituencies, like Lower Dir, where this has happened more than once. In the last by-election there in May 2015, none of the 50,000 registered women voters cast their ballots, because some of the religious parties who are opposing the current proposal had joined hands to ensure that women would not turn out to vote.
Maybe the reason why these parties are opposed to measures designed to encourage the women’s vote is that they have difficulty in mobilising that segment — or perhaps, in winning their vote. In fact, the requirement of 10pc minimum women’s vote is too low, and in time should be raised further. And on top of that, women’s votes should be recorded in more detail at the polling station level, to reflect not just the number of votes cast by them, but also give a party-wise breakdown. This will facilitate greater analysis of the role of the women’s vote in various constituencies across Pakistan, and help incentivise parties to seek this vote as their political strategy rather than trying to suppress it.
Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2017