ECP indecisive about PHC’s verdict on Dir by-poll

Women disenfranchisement issue

ISLAMABAD - Election authorities are double minded whether to challenge or comply with the judgment of Peshawar High Court regarding the much-talked about issue of women disenfranchisement in a constituency in Lower Dir of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on last Thursday declared void the decision of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to nullify the PK-95 by-poll result and withhold notification of Jamaat Islami candidate Aizazul Mulk Afkari as Member of Provincial Assembly because of disenfranchisement of women.
The ECP had declared the results of PK-95 by-polls held on May 7 last year null and void on the grounds that not a single woman voter polled a vote. The absence of women from the election process had also raised eye brows of human rights’ activists and secular political forces.
“Before any action is taken, the KP chief secretary and the district returning officer of PK-95 Lower Dir should be directed to explain as to why and under what circumstances such deprivation has occurred,” said the ECP’s judgment issued last year after hearing the issue of denial of voting rights to females in the area.
After thorough discussions on the issue, the ECP had declared the election as null and void denying administering oath to winner candidate fielded by the religious political force, the JI. The seat had fallen vacant on JI Chief Sirajul Haq’s resignation as he was elected a senator.
The JI moved the PHC against the judgment of the ECP and succeeded in bringing favourable verdict. The judgment according to well-placed official sources has been termed ‘unexpected’ by election authorities. Aizazul Mulk Afkari, district head of the JI in Lower Dir, had defeated Awami National Party (ANP)’s Bahadur Khan in the by-election. Afkari had secured 20,288 votes against 16,439 of the ANP’s contestant.
Now when the court has called for administering oath to the MPA-elect besides declaring the polls as valid, the ECP ponders whether to approach the Supreme Court or retain the judgment. Official sources said the ECP feels being embarrassed by the decision of the PHC as Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (Retd) Sardar Raza Khan himself had taken notice of the issue of women disenfranchisement.
“We will receive the detailed judgment on Monday. Then we will consider whether to comply with or challenge the verdict. But I personally think the CEC will appeal for suspension of the judgment,” the official on condition of anonymity said. Bushra Gohar, former MNA and senior ANP leader who had appeared several times in ECP in favour of re-poll in the constituency, told The Nation that the commission should go for suspension of the judgment. “We should not undermine our female voters. It is not coincidence that not a single female voter cast vote in PK-95 by polls,” she said.
PTI leader and MNA Dr Shireen Mazari too had urged the election commission to take notice of the issue and take immediate action and order re-polling in Lower Dir. Mazari too had voiced support for female voters though her party in Lower Dir had supported the JI candidate. Shumail Ahmad Butt, counsel for ECP, submitted that the high court had no jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution to decide the case in a writ petition. He submitted that the ECP had given the decision as not a single woman cast her vote in the May 7 by-polls out of the total 53,817 female voters in the constituency.

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