PESHAWAR: Election candidates in North Waziristan have expressed their concerns over the arrangements made for next week’s general polls, especially women voters who, some candidates claim, may not be able to cast their vote.
Mohsin Dawar, an active member of the Pashtoon Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and a candidate from NA-48, has expressed his reservations over the arrangements made by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
He stated that in the ultra-conservative tribal district, more than half of the 161 polling stations in the district, or 89 polling stations, were joint —where both men and women can go and cast their vote.
However, with cultural norms dictating that women do not appear before the men, it was not possible for women to vote at these polling stations.
In North Waziristan, ECP notes that out of a population of 543,254, only 274,205 are registered voters. Of this, nearly two thirds or 196,668 voters are men while there are only 77,537 women registered as voters.
Dawar noted that even in the event separate polling stations were made for women — only 20 polling stations have been reserved only for women — they were too far away for women to travel.
“It takes time for an individual to enter the cantonment on normal days and I wonder how can a large number of voters cast their vote inside the cantonment,” he said while addressing a news conference in Bannu.
He stated that usually vehicles and individuals both were checked for security. “There will be a huge number of voters apart from cars on July 25 which will be passing through all these security checks. There will be a very small fraction of votes polled,” he feared.
Dawar, who was removed from leading the Awami National Party’s (ANP) youth wing for supporting the PTM, stated that the situation had been deliberately created to deprive women voters of their basic right to cast votes.
He added that they had filed a written complaint with the returning officer (RO), “but it won’t work.”
“We have submitted a written complaint to the RO, but I am sure the only option we are left with is to seek relief from the court,” he disclosed, adding, “only the election commission will be responsible if there is a low turnout.”
“I was denied permission to hold a political gathering in Razmak on the pretext that Section 144 has been imposed. Vehicles carrying our posters are being stopped, and everyone is being threatened,” he claimed, adding, “tactics are being used to keep our voters away from the electoral process but the public has decided and we will seek relief from the court.”
On the other hand, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) provincial leadership has stated that they did not boycott the general polls even after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. However, they warned of an agitation if the conditions did not improve.
Former provincial cabinet member and PPP candidate for PK-77 Syed Zahir Ali Shah also accused the government of facilitating only a particular party [referring to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)] where there was no level field since campaigns were being disrupted.
He informed that candidates from other political parties were also being restricted with many receiving threats.
The PPP candidate said that his party chief had already expressed his concerns over the situation.
“The administration is doing only one job and that is to promote a specific political party [referring to PTI] and the general polls have become controversial before they are even held,” he told a news conference at Peshawar Press Club on Wednesday.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2018.
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