ECP urged to enhance efforts for marginalized voters

Islamabad: The Free and Fair Election Network FAFEN has recommended that District Election Commissioners DEC should take all possible steps to facilitate marginalized voters and carry out mobilization activities to encourage their participation in the electoral process. ECP should adopt special measures to ensure the safety of marginalized voters, especially in those areas where they may face intimidation and/or violence on Election Day.

FAFEN’s District Long Term Observers DLTOs interviewed 90 District Election Commissioners DECs bout the steps being taken by DECs to facilitate marginalized communities, including women, religious and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and internally displaced persons IDPs. Out of 90 District Election Commissioners DECs 55 said that they are taking steps to facilitate women voters in their districts, while 30 said they haven’t taken any steps to facilitate them. Five DECs declined to share information with FAFEN observers on this topic, says a press release issued by FAFEN on Wednesday.

Region wise, Sindh had the highest percentage of DECs 21 out of 25, or 84% who said they are taking steps to facilitate women, followed by almost three quarters in Punjab 23 out of 32, or 72%, more than one third in KP seven out of 18, or 39%, and two each in FATA out of six, 33% and Balochistan out of eight, 25%. FATA had the highest percentage of DECs four of six, or 66.7% who said they are taking no steps to facilitate women, followed by Balochistan five out of eight, or 62.5, KP 10 out of 18, or 55.6%, eight in Punjab 25%, and three in Sindh 12%.

Regarding the specific steps to facilitate women, most of the DECs said they have initiated voter education and registration programs, including marking National Voters Day on October 17, 2012. DECs also said that they are holding seminars and awareness campaigns in collaboration with civil society organizations to mobilize women voters. A number of DECs said they have formed voter education committees comprising members of all segments of society to increase women’s turnout in the upcoming elections.

The DEC in Sahiwal Punjab said the voter education committee working in his district had 40% representation of women, which he believed would help increase women’s turnout. The DEC in Jhelum Punjab said his team is collaborating with schoolteachers, lady health workers and female students to carry out mobilization campaigns.

DECs in Okara Punjab and Kech Balochistan said they are establishing separate polling stations for women in close proximity to men’s polling stations in order to facilitate women voters. The DEC in Charsadda KP explained that the number of polling stations have been increased from 400 to 500, with 46% polling stations specifically dedicated for women. In addition, he said he has formed special committees in government schools that are carrying out voter education campaigns for women in the district.

Interestingly, the DEC in Lasbela Balochistan revealed that the number of registered female voters was higher than the number of registered male voters in the district. He said his office is taking the issue of women’s voter registration very seriously to ensure maximum turnout of women in elections.

Out of 90 DECs interviewed by FAFEN observers, only two DECs said minorities in their districts were facing any issues related to the elections, despite a year of record violence against minority groups.

Eighty-two DECs said there were no issues being faced by ethnic or religious minorities in their districts. Four DECs declined to share any information, and two DECs did not give any response to FAFEN observers. Despite a significant increase in violent attacks and other actions against minorities in 2012, no DEC identified any security or other concerns for minority voters. The only issue identified by two DECs regarding minority voters is that these voters are now included in the general electoral roll rather than having separate electorates. The DEC in Toba Tek Singh stated that minorities in the district prefer to elect a separate candidate to represent them. The DEC in Lasbela, which has a large Hindu population, said there is no separate mechanism for non Muslims to vote in the district.

Moreover, less than one third 28, or 31% of the DECs said they are taking steps to facilitate voters with disabilities in their respective districts, while half 46, or 51% said they have not taken any steps to facilitate them. Fifteen 17% DECs declined to share information with FAFEN observers, while one DEC did not respond to the question.

Region wise, almost half of Sindh DECs 12 out of 25, or 48% said they are taking steps to facilitate voters with disabilities, followed by almost one third in Punjab 10 out of 32, or 31%, two out of six 33% in FATA, three out of 18 in KP 17%, and one out of eight 12.5% in Balochistan. Two thirds of DECs in KP 12, or 67% admitted they are not taking any steps to facilitate voters with disabilities, followed by half of DECs in Punjab 16, or 50%, four in Balochistan 50%, three in FATA 50% and 11 in Sindh 44%.

FAFEN observers identified the presence of internally displaced persons IDPs in 19 out of 90 districts – five each in FATA and KP, four in Punjab, three in Sindh and two in Balochistan. Among the 19 DECs interviewed by FAFEN observers regarding efforts to ensure participation of IDPs in General Elections 2013, two thirds of DECs 12, or 63% said they are taking steps to facilitate IDPs, but one third said they are not six, or 32%. The DEC in Buner KP declined to answer this question.

Regarding steps taken, the DEC in South Waziristan FATA said his office has devised a plan to establish 77 polling stations for IDPs. Similarly, the DEC in Dera Ismail Khan KP said he has divided the IDPs in the district into 907 electoral blocs so that polling stations and voter lists can be arranged accordingly.