As the Election Commission of Pakistan took steps to bring women into the electoral fold with a special campaign to register them as voters, one group has called on the apex polling body to also strive to make the electoral process inclusive for the differently abled.
The Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE) and the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), in a statement issued on Tuesday, said that there was no reason that this segment of the society should be left behind in exercising their democratic rights.
Fatima Shah, a senior programme officer at CPDI, said that with the country close to another general election, it was time to focus on all facets of the electoral processes.
“We need to make our electoral processes inclusive for all citizens, especially for the physically challenged,” she said, reminding that Pakistan is a signatory to and has also ratified the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
“The convention clearly states in Article 29 that state parties will ensure PWDs political rights and provide the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis as others.”
In this regard, Shah said that creating accessible polling stations was a crucial first step to bringing the physically challenged into the mainstream electoral processes.
PAIE’s recent accessibility audit of polling stations in NA-4 Peshawar found that an overwhelmingly 95 per cent of sampled polling stations were not completely accessible to the differently abled.
This situation, Shah said, warrants immediate corrective measures on part of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) since electoral events conceived and held while excluding a segment of the society are at odds with the true spirit of electoral democracy. The government has made a provision for the postal ballot for the differently abled in section 93 of the recently passed Election Act 2017, which allows such people to take part in the elections.
Moreover, under section 48 of the act, the ECP is required to take special measures for registering differently in the electoral rolls. “These special measures are encouraging but we should never forget the importance and impact of being part of the mainstream procedure. The exposure that one receives by passing through the procedure on the Election Day in that environment has its own importance in the democratic training of the citizens,” Shah emphasised.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2017.