The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Monday directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to enquire into the alleged reports of women being prevented from voting in the August 22 by-elections at certain polling stations and to arrange by-polls on all such stations in Nowshehra and Lakki Marwat.
Peshawar High Court (PHC) Chief Justice (CJ) Justice Dost Mohammad Khan had taken suo motu action against a local agreement preventing women from voting at various polling stations of Nowshehra and Lakki Marwat.
A two-member bench comprising Justice Dost and Justice Malik Manzoor Hussain heard the court proceedings.
The provincial chief election commissioner, advocate generals, lawyers of contesting candidates and police officials appeared before the bench to explain their position.
The bench was informed that the presiding and polling officers on almost polling stations in Nowshehra and Lakki Marwat districts facilitated the voters who came to the polling stations, adding that the law and order situation remained under control.
The provincial election commissioner and high-ups from the civil and police department confirmed that in certain areas, the local elders and political leaders had agreed to prevent women from casting their votes. The low turnout of women at certain polling stations confirmed that the women were prevented from participating in the elections, they said.
Advocate Sher Afzal Marwat, representing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F)’s Ataur Rehman who contested the by-polls from NA-27 Lakki Marwat, informed the bench that turnout on around 87 polling stations remained low. He pleaded the court to order re-polling on all those polling stations. Awami National Party (ANP) candidate from Nowshera, Daud Khattak’s lawyer also supported Marwat’s stance.
The bench directed the ECP to conduct an enquiry into the matter and take action against the people responsible. The court also called for re-arranging by-elections on all such polling stations where women were barred from voting or where their turnout remained low.
Justice Dost said disenfranchising women during the by-polls was tantamount to committing a dacoity on the rights of women.
The PHC also directed the ECP to amend the Representation of People Act 1976 to allow the law enforcing agencies to take action against those who deprived people of their democratic rights.
He said the government should enact a law according to which the polls in the constituencies where the women were not allowed to cast their votes, be cancelled.
The court’s decision for re-polling could influence the by-poll results of NA-27 as the margin between the winner and runner up is thin. However, it is not likely to affect the results of Nowshehra, where the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is leading with a margin of more than 10,000 votes against the runner-up ANP.