The Election Commission of Pakistan has cancelled the result of a local poll in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province after women were barred from casting their ballots.
A by-election on May 7 in the Lower Dir district was won by a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, but it emerged that women in the area had been prevented from voting. After objections by civil society groups, women’s rights organizations and the media, the election commission cancelled the result.
“The by-election of constituency No. PK-95 Lower Dir-II is hereby declared void for the reasons of disenfranchisement of female voters,” the ECP said in its official notice issued late on Tuesday. “New election schedule shall be announced in accordance with law, in due course.”
Activists welcomed the decision.
“There was a verbal agreement among the political parties to bar women from voting,” Shad Bibi, a women’s rights campaigner and former councilor from the area, said. “We welcome this decision of declaring the poll void but demand that better arrangements be made next time to facilitate women voters.”
But the candidate who won the vote, JI’s Aizaz-ul-Mulk Afkari, hit out at the ruling and vowed to challenge it in the Supreme Court. “There was no agreement to keep women out of this election, so how can the election commission cancel results?” he said. “If there was an agreement, it should be made open. JI has not signed such an agreement.”
Bahadur Khan, candidate from Awami National Party also denied the existence of a deal to stop women voting. “There have been such agreements in the past, but not this time,” he said.
It is not the first time a Pakistani election result has been overturned because women have been stopped from voting. A court in the northwest withheld by-election results in two constituencies in 2013 and ordered the arrest of elders who had prevented women from voting.
Female election turnout is usually weak in the most conservative, rural parts of Pakistan, particularly within the tribal belt, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan province.