ISLAMABAD: The Coalition for Elections and Democracy (CED), a group of civil society organisations, working to strengthen democratic and electoral processes in Pakistan has called on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to take urgent action to ensure inclusive elections.

It has been highlighted that the upcoming 2023 general election and local government elections in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and provinces are fully accessible to all voters, including those with disabilities, elderly individuals, and those with health issues.

The CED highlighted that despite the ECP’s efforts to make polling stations more accessible and its establishment of a Gender and Disability Electoral Working Group, it is likely that many persons with disabilities (PWDs) would still face significant attitudinal and physical barriers to casting their votes.

Through a letter written to the Chief Election Commissioner, Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, executive director of Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) and national coordinator of CED has made several recommendations to the ECP for making the upcoming election inclusive for all voters.

Polling stations must be made accessible for PWDs, elderly persons

One of the recommendations for the ECP is to develop and publish the Draft Polling Scheme for the 2023 general election as soon as possible, allowing enough time for objections and complaints to be raised and addressed. This would provide political parties, candidates, civil society and voters with the opportunity to raise any objections, including from the accessibility standpoint, and allow the ECP to address any reasonable and legitimate complaints.

The CED has also recommended that the ECP must conduct an accessibility audit of potential polling stations, preferably through a development partner, to provide authentic information on the barriers faced by PWDs and other marginalised groups. This would help the ECP to better understand the problem and take timely remedial measures.

CED has also called upon the ECP to strengthen its coordination with district authorities, including the education department and the local governments concerned, to ensure that all polling stations in the future will be located on ground floors and will be accessible through ramps.

In this regard, the ECP may convene meetings of relevant officials, including chief secretaries, finance secretaries, and education secretaries of the provinces, to discuss the urgent need for accessible polling stations and impress upon the need for timely remedial measures.

ECP must also issue directions to relevant authorities to review building codes from an accessibility perspective and ensure compliance with accessibility requirements, including those prescribed through the Accessibility Code of Pakistan, 2006.

In its letter, the CED has noted that the local government election in the ICT is fast approaching, and it is crucial that all voters, including PWDs, are able to participate in the electoral process on an equal and dignified basis.

“CED requests the ECP to take swift action to consider these recommendations and ensure that all citizens have a fair and equal opportunity to have their voices heard,” it added.

The CED is a civil society coalition for voter education, election observation and strengthening democratic institutions. Its secretariat is based at CPDI.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2022

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