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ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday annulled the election for a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly seat in Shangla where women had apparently been barred from voting.

The constituency was PK-23 (Shangla) where Shaukat Ali of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had emerged victorious by securing 17,399 votes. A four-member bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza heard the case and ordered re-polling in the constituency.

Arguing before the bench, the counsel for applicant Wali Khan said that women had forcibly been barred from voting in the constituency. Under the law, he pointed out, the votes cast by women had to be more than 10 percent of the total polled votes.

There are 200,525 registered voters in the constituency, 113,827 of them male and 86,698 female voters. A total of 69,827 votes had been polled with the share of women voters being as low as 3,505 (5.01pc) against 66,322 polled by male voters. That means out of the 86,698 registered female voters, only 4.01pc turned up to vote.

Under a jirga decision, area women were barred from using their right to franchise

It was argued that the decision to restrain women had been taken in a jirga and applications had been moved against the jirga decision and the returning officer concerned had also been informed.

The lawyer requested the ECP bench to declare the Shangla polls as void.

Shaukat Ali’s counsel argued that the polling stations No 21 and 89 were combined ones though there was a trend among the area women not to go to combined polling stations.

On this the CEC pointed out that combined polling station did not mean that male and female voters were to cast their votes in the same room. Separate polling booths are set up for male and female voters at combined polling stations.

The ECP member from KP, retired Justice Irshad Qaiser, said there were 86,698 female voters in Shangla’s PK-23 and there must be a reason behind just three and a half thousand (of them) casting their votes. The counsel responded that women did cast their votes at combined polling stations, but in very low numbers, as traditionally they were averse to going to such polling stations.

The CEC said a by-election had been conducted in Dir for low female voters’ turnout and the turnout in the by-poll was impressive.

The ECP declared the Shangla election void and ordered re-poll, a schedule for which would be announced later.

The commission, however, rejected petitions seeking re-polling in NA-10 Shangla and PK-85 (Karak).

In NA-10 (Shangla) the total number of registered voters is 374,343. Out of the 212,294 male voters, 115,639 (54 pc) cast their votes while only 12,663 women out of the total registered 162,049 female voters turned up to vote. The total votes cast in the constituency were 128,302 and the 12,663 female votes was less than 10pc of the total votes.

Ibadullah Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had won the seat by clinching 34,070 votes in a closely contested battle with Saeed ur Rahman of the Awami National Party who bagged 32,665 votes. It was one of 44 constituencies where the number of rejected votes was higher than the margin of victory.

In PK-85, the women however had cast 43,383 (42.19 pc) votes out of the total 102,810 votes.

Under Section 9 of the Election Act, “if, from facts apparent on the face of the record and after such an enquiry as it may deem necessary, the Commission is satisfied that by reason of grave illegalities or such violations of the provisions of this Act or the Rules as have materially affected the result of the poll at one or more polling stations or in the whole constituency including implementation of an agreement restraining women from casting their votes, it shall make a declaration accordingly and call upon the voters in the concerned polling station or stations or in the whole constituency as the case may be, to recast their votes in the manner provided for bye-elections.”

An explanation with the section reads “If the turnout of women voters is less than ten percent of the total votes polled in a constituency, the Commission may presume that the women voters have been restrained through an agreement from casting their votes and may declare, polling at one or more polling stations or election in the whole constituency, void”.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2018