TIMERGARA/UPPER DIR: Social activists and losing candidates from Lower and Upper Dir on Monday condemned the election commission for failing to ensure women enfranchisement during the recently held local government by-elections on tehsil and village council seats in the two districts.

According to electoral lists, the number of women voters in Shahikhel Talash tehsil council ward was 6,286 but none of the registered women voters exercised their right to vote.

The seat was won by Jamaat-i-Islami-backed candidate Gul Hakim Khan, getting 1,283 votes. Similarly, in Samarbagh tehsil council ward, there were 7,042 registered women voters but none of them polled their vote. The seat was won by JI candidate Akhunzada Azizur Rehman who bagged 2,101 votes out of the total 17,321 registered voters.

A social worker Akbar Khan told Dawn that there had been reports of unwritten agreement among different parties in Samarbagh not to allow women to cast vote. He said it was responsibility of the ECP to ensure at least 10 per cent women participation at all levels of LG polls.

Social activists Ibrash Pasha, Umar Zada and women rights’ activist Shad Begum said all mainstream political parties were reluctant to allow women to exercise their right to vote. They said in the past there had been written pacts among political parties about barring women from voting. They vowed to press the ECP to ensure every woman was able to cast her vote.

Shad Begum said after the passage of Election Act, 2017, the ECP was bound to ensure women participation in voting. She said it was very sad that no one in two tehsil councils’ wards and 23 village councils exercised their right to vote during the LG by-polls held on Thursday.

Lower Dir District Nazim Mohammad Rasool Khan said the ECP had set up separate polling stations and polling booths for women but the women voters did not turn up. He said no one had barred women from voting.

JI Lower Dir secretary information Engr Yaqubur Rehman also rejected reports about barring women from voting. Talking to Dawn, he said women themselves did not come out for voting.

However, PPP, PML-N, PTI, ANP and JUI-F candidates for tehsil council Shahikhel Talash ward blamed JI candidates for banning women from voting, and demanded of the ECP to declare the election null and void and also take notice of a JI minister’s involvement in rigging the by-election.

In Upper Dir, over 6,000 registered women voters in Darora, Chukiatan and Brawal union councils did not use their right to vote.

According to ECP, 6,813 women voters were registered in the Darora union council, but not a single vote was polled. The same situation was witnessed in Chukiatan and Brawal village councils where women were also kept deprived of casting vote.

Sources said all the political parties in Darora union council had reached a verbal agreement a day before the poling day that women won’t be allowed to cast vote. According to local residents and activists the district election commission office also ignored women voters by not setting up a single women polling station and booth in Darora UC.

District election commissioner Amjad Ali told Dawn on phone that they had not established separate polling stations for women in Darora UC. However, he said the people of the constituency were not interested in women casting vote.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2017