Lahore: While welcoming the conclusion of local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Monday expressed its concern that the right of women to cast their vote continued to be denied and the arrangements made for the maintenance of law and order and for smooth polling were grossly inadequate.
In a statement, the Commission said: “HRCP welcomes the holding of local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, though it takes a strong exception to the denial of women’s right to vote in several parts of the province. The Commission condemns armed violence and killing of around a dozen citizens. The failure of the administration and especially of the civil armed forces, and the police, to maintain law and order cannot be condoned. While offering its condolences to the bereaved families, the Commission calls for payment of adequate compensation to them.
“In its initial findings from the KP districts where HRCP observer teams covered elections in selected village and urban neighbourhood councils, HRCP noted that compared to male voters, very small number of women reached the polling stations to cast their votes. Despite the denial by political and religio-political parties and independent contestants about the traditional agreements to bar women from voting, a very low turn-out by female voters indicated that women were not free to exercise their right to franchise. However, the Commission takes note of the spirit of defiance of a good number of women who have taken their cause forward.
“The election was marred by many failures of the administration and the police to perform their duties in a non-partisan manner and help the election commission in conducting free and fair polls in a peaceful atmosphere. At the same time, the shortcomings of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) staff in KP, especially in regard to training the polling staff, cannot be ignored.
“The fact that the electoral code of conduct was observed only in the breach. Mismanagement, non-availability of polling material before the start of polling, lack of proper premises and furniture and lack of trained polling staff caused many a voter to leave without casting their vote. The voters’ lack of knowledge of the electoral process and their disregard for discipline made matters worse.
“There were many incidents of what appeared to be pre-planned organized violence at certain places to scare the voters, especially women, from turning up at the polling stations. Incidents of looting the polling material including ballot boxes and ballot papers in full view of the police officials was also widely reported.
“The polling staff and police were not impartial at some places. Allegations of stamping of ballot papers by unauthorized persons and tampering with ballot boxes were made at certain polling stations, especially those reserved for women. “It should be hoped that the ECP will take cognizance of the many complaints and take early steps to redress them.
“The local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa offered an opportunity to the ECP, political parties and the administration especially the police to remove their shortcomings and enhance their capacity for holding peaceful, free and fair polls. Unfortunately, these expectations were not fulfilled, at least not in due measure. That allegations of electoral malpractices were freely exchanged among the parties in the field left a bitter taste in all observers’ mouths.
“HRCP will issue a detailed report within a few days,” the Commission concluded.