The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday ordered a re-election in Shangla's constituency of PK-23 over low turnout of female voters.
The results of the polls in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly constituency, where Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) Shaukat Yousafzai had emerged as the winner, were declared void.
The Elections Act, 2017 requires the ECP to declare an election null and void if women’s turnout in a constituency is less than 10 per cent of its total polled votes.
Yousafzai termed the ECP verdict "cruel", saying that the commission should have ordered the re-polling of female voters only instead of declaring the whole election void.
"It is not easy to hold elections in Shangla," he claimed. "We will suffer due to the re-election in the constituency."
A four-member ECP bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza was hearing the petition against Yousafzai's victory filed by Wali Khan, a resident of PK-23. The commission had earlier withheld the notification of the PTI candidate's win after the application was filed.
The lawyer representing Khan claimed before the ECP that women were forcibly barred from casting their votes in PK-23 (Shangla-I). A jirga had announced that no women in the area would go to cast their votes, after the female voters had submitted applications against the jirga's decision and informed the concerned Returning Officer, he claimed.
He said it was mandatory under the law that at least 10pc of female votes are polled, but only 5.01pc votes of registered women voters were polled in PK-23.
According to the lawyer, a total of 69,827 ballots were cast in the constituency, out of which the female votes were only 3,505. He asked the ECP to declared the elections void due to the low women turnout.
The lawyer representing Yousufzai informed the bench that polling stations number 21 and 89 in the constituency were combined for men and women, which females of the area tend to avoid.
At this, the CEC remarked that a combined polling station did not mean that both male and female voters would cast their votes in the same room, and that there are separate booths for them.
The ECP member from KP, Irshad Qaiser, observed that there are a total of 86,698 registered female voters in PK-23 (Shangla-I). "There must have been a reason why only [around] 3,500 women came out to vote," he wondered.
Yousufzai's lawyer responded that women did cast their ballots at combined polling stations, but in very low numbers.
CEC recalled that the ECP had ordered a by-election in Dir due to women being barred from voting. As a result, the female turnout from Dir in the July 25 elections remained very good, he observed.
After hearing all arguments, the commission declared the results of PK-23 election void and ordered re-polling, the date of which is yet to be announced.