ECP urged to enhance efforts for marginalized voters

Social sector organizations have urged Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to adopt special measures for ensuring safety of marginalized voters, especially in areas where they may face intimidation and violence.

“District Election Commissioners (DECs) should take all possible steps to facilitate marginalized voters and carry out mobilization activities to encourage their participation in the electoral process,” recommended by Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) to the Commission in a statement issued Wednesday. The organization has based its recommendation on its recent series of interviews with 90 DECs about the steps being taken to facilitate marginalized communities, including women, religious and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Out of 90 District Election Commissioners 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, the FAFEN claimed.

According to region-wise data, Sindh had the highest percentage of DECs among those approached with (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 KPK (seven out of 18, or 39%), and two each in FATA (out of six, 33%) and in Balochistan (two out of eight, 25%). Regarding steps to facilitate women, most of the DECs mentioned to initiating voter education and registration programs and 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.

Out of 90 DECs interviewed by FAFEN observers, only two DECs said minorities in their districts were facing any issues related to the elections.

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.

FAFEN observers identified the presence of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 19 out of 90 districts - five each in FATA and KPK, four in Punjab, three in Sindh and two in Balochistan. Among the 19 DECs interviewed by FAFEN regarding efforts to ensure participation of IDPs in General Elections 2013, two-thirds of DECs said they are taking steps to facilitate IDPs, but one-third said they are not.

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.