SOCIETY: ACCESSING THE POLLING BOOTH

General elections are just round the corner and all parties cannot emphasise enough on the inclusion of all sections of society in the electoral process. That said, what should be a cause of concern are the conditions at the polling stations in terms of accessibility and basic facilities for the marginalised groups of society including persons with disabilities (PWDs) and the transgender community.

Due to inadequate basic facilities and inaccessibility to polling stations set up in public buildings, physically-challenged people, and members of transgender and intersex community are reluctant to exercise their right to vote in the July 25 elections.

According to an accessibility audit conducted by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE), the situation is unnerving as 95 percent of the sampled polling stations in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) do not meet the mandatory accessibility criteria for PWDs.

Having the legal right to cast your ballot isn’t much comfort when poor access or social taboo means you can’t physically do it

Survey findings reveal that the approach pathways of 54 percent of the sample polling stations “are not firm and obstacle free”, while at 69 percent polling stations the “pedestrian gates do not provide level access to the building.” The study also shows that 65 percent of the sampled polling stations “do not meet the mandatory criterion of functional lighting at the gate.”

In a previous study compiled by PAIE during by-polls in the most important constituency of Peshawar NA-29 — denoted as NA-4 until fresh delimitation of constituencies by the ECP — about 80 percent polling stations of the area did not meet accessibility criteria, whereas the inclusion of PWDs in the electoral process and accessibility of polling stations is vital among other procedural and administrative measures.

According to the latest data available at the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, there are 3.3 million PWDs in Pakistan. One of the major challenges faced by PWDs in their mobility is accessibility to buildings.

A senior citizen keen on exercising his right to vote | Photo by Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

 

“With the upcoming elections, it is high time that the stakeholders on both demand and supply side use their resources in making this election inclusive,” the study suggests. “For this, accessibility of polling stations is one prerequisite.”

“I am not able to cast my vote even in the posh area of Peshawar Saddar, because the polling stations are not accessible,” says Mushtaq Hussain Mohmand, a 52-year-old disabled person.

Mohmand also runs an organisation, Friends of Paraplegics, for the rights of PWDs in KP. The organisation has more than 12,000 registered disabled persons including almost 4,000 women and girls.

He says that they have decided to boycott the upcoming general elections because of the accessibility issue at the polling stations in the entire province. According to him, although politicians want their support in the electoral process, they hardly bother to discuss the issues of PWDs in the assembly, once they come into power.

There is a need to provide adequate facilities in order to include physically-challenged people in the electoral process | https://www.globalaccessibilitynews.com

 

He says that they would start campaigns on social media and in the mainstream media about the problems confronting PWDs during and after the electoral process, adding that in the general elections people from his community should be able to cast their votes.

“The government should establish separate polling stations that have ramps, functional lightning and other basic facilities for disabled people,” he says.

He mentions that the polling stations established in public places do not have washrooms for both PWDs and senior citizens, which is also a big obstacle for a physically-challenged person while exercising his/her right to vote.

Qamar Naseem, a Peshawar-based activist working for the rights of transgender people, highlights various issues that transgender people face in order to cast their votes. “Most of them are reluctant to visit polling stations due to security issues and societal taboos,” he says. “According to Nadra, there are 1,948 registered voters from the transgender and intersex community but only one percent would be willing to exercise their right to vote. Although 13 transgender persons had submitted their nomination papers for national and provincial assemblies to contest the general elections, most of them withdrew their nominations later. Two transgenders will contest elections on National Assembly seats while five are aspirants of KP and Punjab provincial assemblies,” he adds.

Physically-challenged senior citizens face lack of facilities | Photo by Arif Ali /White Star

 

A study conducted by his organisation reveals that, in the last three years, about 54 transgender people were killed while 1,133 cases of sexual and physical abuse were recorded in KP. It is the hostile environment towards transgender and intersex community which forces them to remain in specific vicinities.

Naseem says that transgender persons were mostly living in major cities of the province, i.e. Peshawar and Mardan, instead of their native villages, pointing out that they had left their hometowns because of social norms and values.

“Transfer of vote facility is not provided by the ECP so transgender persons have to exercise the right to vote in their native areas,” he says. “How can a transgender person take the risk of going to the areas which they have left, to cast their vote? Their families did not accept them and that is the reason they live in city areas to earn the livelihood.”

He says that the issues faced by transgender persons in their daily life stopped them from participating in electoral process, adding that the government should transfer their vote to those areas where they were living. One separate polling station in each major city of the province would help them to cast their vote, he suggests.

On condition of anonymity, a public servant told Dawn that when she was taking a training course for the July 25 general elections, she did not hear even a single word about the facilities for transgender persons and PWDs in polling stations. She further said that the election manuals and guideline books provided to her also lacked materials on how physically-challenged and transgender persons could cast their votes on election day in crowded polling stations.

“The ECP has issued directives to the KP provincial government to provide basic facilities for PWDs in 2018 elections, including proper lighting, open doors and ramps in the polling stations at public buildings,” says Sohail Ahmad, spokesperson of KP Election Commission.

He adds that about 14,655 polling stations have been established across the province in which 534 do not meet the accessibility criteria. He further says that the KP government is trying to make those accessible for special persons.

He says that for the forthcoming general elections, the ECP has mostly established polling stations on ground level where PWDs could cast their vote without any problem, adding that they could also exercise their right to vote via postal ballot.

Responding to a question, the spokesperson of the provincial election commission says that the transgender persons could cast their votes in both male and female polling stations, adding that a transgender could cast vote according to his/her gender mentioned during the voters’ registration process.

KP Assembly spends more on foreign tours than Punjab PA

 

 

KP Assembly spends more on foreign tours than Punjab PA

ISLAMABAD: As the assemblies are nearing their five-year terms, the smaller Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly has beaten the three-time bigger Punjab Assembly in terms of spending on its members through foreign trips and salary raise, official data obtained by The News revealed.

Certified information obtained through the Right to Information Law shows that despite being a third of the size of the Punjab Assembly, the KP Assembly spent three-time more on foreign visits of its members and staff as compared to legislators in the Punjab during the last five years.

Interestingly, according to the KP Assembly website, the house passed five laws during as many years to enhance salaries and perks of provincial assembly members and cabinet members while during the same period not a single such law was passed by the Punjab Assembly.

The data, however, shows that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led KP Assembly passed more laws ever since its inception after 2013 elections as compared to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led Punjab Assembly. The Punjab Assembly passed 163 government bills in five years while the KP Assembly passed as many as 172 bills, which included 29 private member bills.

The data shows the KP Assembly, which has 124 members, spent Rs53.6 million on foreign tours while the Punjab Assembly with the strength of 371 members spent only Rs16.5 million on foreign tours of its members.

The certified data shows that only eight members of the Punjab Assembly went on foreign tours during the last five years while in KP over 60 members of assembly embarked on state-funded foreign tours.

The data was obtained through respective provincial Right to Information (RTI) laws by this correspondent in collaboration with the Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI), a civil society organisation working on the RTI.

The KP Assembly Speaker, Asad Qaiser, travelled abroad 10 times, including six trips to England, and one trip each to the United States, Iran, Scotland and Africa. Qaiser spent Rs5.5 million from the provincial budget on his trips while Information Technology Special Secretary Attaullah Khan had spent Rs4.1 million of the public exchequer on foreign visits. In addition, Rs2.9 million was spent by the KP Assembly Special Secretary to the Speaker Syed Wiqar Shah on foreign trips.

MPAs, provincial ministers, advisers, parliamentary secretaries and even the opposition members of the assembly have used the public money to undertake these visits. The provincial assembly’s special secretary for information technology had visited eight countries during his tenure, while special secretary of the speaker of the provincial assembly visited six countries.

Also the KP Assembly passed five bills to increase perks and privileges of its members. These bills include The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Salaries, Allowances and Privileges Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2017, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ministers (Salaries, Allowances and Privileges) (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the KP Ministers Salaries Allowances and Privilege (Amendment) Bill, 2014, The KP Salary Allowances and Privileges Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ministers Salaries & Allowances (Amendment) Bill 2014.

When contacted for version, KP Parliamentary Secretary for Law & Parliamentary Affairs Nagina Khan said since the PTI government had eliminated all the means of corruption for members, they were being compensated with enhanced salaries, perks, etc.

However, in a recent press conference, PTI chief Imran Khan admitted that his party MPAs accepted bribe in Senate elections to vote against the party candidates. “Previously, MPAs used to get quota in jobs and get their favorites appointed against various posts. But now the members are totally dependent on their salaries and there are no other means to make money,” she said. When asked why five separate bills had been passed to enhance salaries, she said, “It is always good to bring change slowly otherwise it could become a media issue”.

On the other hand, information received from the Punjab Assembly shows that Rs16.5 million were spent from the taxpayers’ money on foreign tours of MPAs and staff of the assembly secretariat.

Interestingly, in Punjab the total amount (Rs10.8 million) spent on tours of assembly officials is twice the amount spent on MPs (Rs5.6 million). The data shows Speaker Punjab Assembly Rana Muhammad Iqbal visited London thrice while spending an amount of Rs2.05 million from the national exchequer on these visits. All his visits were conducted to attend the CPA meetings, according to the information provided by the Punjab Assembly secretariat.

Deputy Speaker Punjab Assembly Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani spent Rs1.05 million on his maiden visit to Columbus (USA) in 2016. He was there to attend the general conference of International Federation of Library Association (IFLA).

Mian Tariq Mehmood of PML-N who made six trips abroad — the most by any member — spent an amount of Rs2.9 million on these tours. He told The News that visits were made to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) meeting. He said it was the declared policy of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to stop unnecessary foreign trips of MPAs, which were used in the past as a form of political bribe.

The PML-N member claimed that all his visits were sponsored by CPA. However, the Public Information Officer of Punjab government Abeeda Haroon told The News that the visits were partly funded from the public exchequer. “The expenditure incurred were in accordance with the government of Punjab letter No.FD.SR.I-83/07 dated 15th March 2007.” She said 30 percent daily allowance is only admissible to the participants if the tour is sponsored by the host.

Coalition for Election and Democracy
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An Analysis of Women Participation in By-Election NA-154 (Lodhran-I)

 

 

An Analysis of Women Participation in By-Election NA-154 (Lodhran-I)

This report is published by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) to bring forth different trends of women participation in the electoral process and factors hinder-ing or encouraging it during by-elections of NA-154 (Lodhran-I) held on February 12, 2018. This analysis is generated on a sample size of 50 polling stations. The sample was drawn using systematic random sampling method to select 15% of total polling stations.

The total number of registered voters in the constituency is 4,31,002, with 2,36,496 (54.9%) male voters and 194506 (45.1%) female voters. To accommodate these voters, an equal number of 49 polling stations for men and women have been set up in addition to 240 combined polling stations in the constituency. These polling stations consist of total 1043 polling booths including 566 for men and 477 for women.

The data collected on election day shows that mostly same-gender staff is deployed at the polling booths. The CPDI team observed that all booths set up for female voters at combined and female polling stations had women as assistant presiding officers and polling officers.

A dominance of men as presiding officers was observed on male and combined polling stations. At female polling stations all the polling staff was female. Moreover, at all 32 sampled combined polling stations had men as their presiding officer. This shows women are not often the first choice for top positions.

In terms of women participation as party polling agents, PTI had largest number of polling agents at female sampled polling booths with presence at 75% booths, while PML (N) polling agents covered 60% female sampled polling booths. PPPP polling agents were present at only 14% sampled female booths.

A lower turn out of women was observed in comparison to men. On an average 22 wom-en voters voted in an hour on a sampled female polling booth as compared to 27 men on the male booth. This lower turn out of women was noticed despite ECP’s effort to mobi-lize women voters and the provisions of section 12 (C) of Elections Act 2017.

The CPDI teams interviewed female voters on sampled polling stations on election day to collect more data about women participation. Women from the age group 23 to 35 years participated heavily (43%) while participation of age group 18 to 22 years was low (8%). Moreover 36% of the women voters belong to the age group of 36 to 50 years. It appears that middle age women especially married are encouraged to participate in electoral ac-tivities but younger women are discouraged and it is considered unnecessary exposure for them. This data also signifies the need to focus and pay more attention to women youth as their low participation in electoral process may also be reflecting their lack of interest in political engagement.

The interview data further sheds light on relation between marital status and occupa-tions of women and their turn out. The data reveals that 58% of women appearing to vote were Housewife, 12%were unemployed, 8% were doing government or private job and 7 % were students. This data reflects that majority of the women voters in the sam-ple were housewives.

The CPDI interviewers also asked about educational background of women voters; 14% out of them were matric, 25% were below matric but literate, 38% were illiterate and 22% were graduates or above.

It was observed that women turnout was the highest during 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm when per booth ratio remained 23 voters per hour. It appears that this is the time when women get free from their household responsibilities and feel their daily routine would not be disturbed by leaving home during this time.

During the rush hours polling staff was unable to provide special assistance to older women, expecting mothers and mothers of infants. From 42% of sampled polling sta-tions, there were no reports of preferential treatment being given to expecting mothers. In 39% polling stations CPDI observers said no preferential treatment was giving to old age women. Mothers carrying young children were further neglected in this category and observers from 46% polling stations reported that no preferential treatment was given to them either.

About CED: CED is a civil society coalition for voter education, election observation and strengthening democratic institutions. Its secretariat is based at CPDI

Coalition for Election and Democracy
601 | Abu Dhabi Towers | Block B | F-11 Markaz | Islamabad | Pakistan
Tel: +92 (0) 51-8312794, 8312795 Fax +92 (0) 51 844 36 33

Election Observation Report (Counting Process) NA-154 (Lodhran-I)

 

 

Election Observation Report (Counting Process) NA-154 (Lodhran-I)

 

Monday (February 12, 2018)

This report is issued by Coalition for Elections and Democracy (CED) for observing the counting process at NA-154 (Lodhran-I). Total number of Registered voters in the constituency is 4,31,002 including 2,36,496 male voters and 1,94,506 female voters. Total number of polling stations set up in the constituency is 338 with 1043 polling booths, 566 for male voters and 477 for female voters.

The official closing time of the polling is 5pm. The CED teams made sure to enter the sampled polling stations before the closure of voting process. However, at the Polling Station #55 Govt. Girls Primary School, Chak No. 97/M (Male), at polling station # 31 Govt. Boys High School, (Male) and at polling station # 253 Basic Health Unit, Galay wal at Sagwan (Comb) security officials didn’t allow the observers to enter the polling stations and observe the counting process. The observers remained outside the polling stations till the end of the counting process and received copy of polling station result count i.e. form 45 from the presiding officers.

The observers reported that 100 % of the observed polling stations closed on time. The polling staff started the closing process immediately and the counting started within 10 minutes of the closing at average. The voters waiting to vote inside the polling station were allowed to vote.

At 100% of the sampled polling stations the observers reported that the staff counted the number of issued ballot papers while closing the polling. At same percent of sampled polling stations the staff recorded the number of issued ballot papers in ECP forms. While staff at 100% polling stations counted and record the number of un-used ballot papers immediately after start of closing process. Teams of observers reported that at 33% of the polling stations seal of the ballot box was not properly intact when it was brought to table for counting process. Observers reported from 100% polling stations that the polling staff cross checked the number of ballots cast against the number of signatures on the counterfoil I.e. issued ballot papers. Observers reported that that at 11% of the polling stations the polling staff did not perform the crosschecks of the data for mathematical consistency. Observers reported that at 22% of the polling stations that counting process was seriously hampered by overcrowding.

Team of observers reported that at 100% polling stations presiding officer got signature of senior assistant presiding officer and polling agents on result of the count and ballot paper account while at 77% polling stations presiding officer got signature of observers on the result of the count and ballot paper account.

Team of observers reported that at 11 % of sampled polling stations the presiding officers did not paste the result outside the polling station for the public. At100 % of sampled polling stations the presiding officers gave copies of the result (form 45) to the poling agents. The observers reported that at 45% polling stations the ballot paper account was not posted outside the polling station.

The observers noted that during counting process no formal complaint was lodged at polling stations. The polling staff cooperated with the CED observers during the counting process. All the observers were allowed to sit in the counting room without any restriction except for three polling station already mentioned above. The presiding officers of all the sampled polling stations answered all questions related to counting process and shared details of the vote count with observers.

About CED: CED is a civil society coalition for voter education, election observation and strengthening democratic institutions. Its secretariat is based at CPDI

Coalition for Election and Democracy
601 | Abu Dhabi Towers | Block B | F-11 Markaz | Islamabad | Pakistan
Tel: +92 (0) 51-8312794, 8312795 Fax +92 (0) 51 844 36 33

Election Observation Report (Voting Process) NA-154 (Lodhran-I)

 

 

Election Observation Report (Voting Process) NA-154 (Lodhran-I)

 

Monday (February 12, 2018)

This report is issued by Coalition for Elections and Democracy (CED) for observing voting process in NA-154 (Lodhran-I) by-election. Total number of Registered voters in the constituency is 4,31,002 including 2,36,496 male voters and 1,94,506 female voters. Total number of polling stations set up in the constituency is 338 with 1043 polling booths, 566 for male voters and 477 for female voters.

The CED teams initiated observation of the voting process right from the opening of the polling sta-tions. Polling staff was present at all the sampled polling stations observed during the day. The vot-ers’ enthusiasm geared up as the day progressed and queues of voters were seen outside 38% poll-ing stations. This number was reasonably low in early morning observation. The average voter turn-out per booth per hour was 25.53 during the day. This average remained 26.59 for male voters and 22.72 for female voters. The observers submitted their reports of voting process until 4:55 PM so that they could enter the polling stations again for observation of the closing and counting process.

Observers reported election code violations from vicinity of 19% of the sampled polling stations. Of these 19% polling stations, at 78% voter transportation and voter ‘parchi’ issuance was reported by the observers, 44% of these polling stations had party camps within 400 yards while campaign mate-rial and campaign activity were seen at 44% and 33% of these polling stations respectively.

Inside the polling stations observers noted that the layout of the voting area was adequate for con-duct of polling at 90% sampled polling stations and sufficiently protected secrecy of ballot at 98% sampled polling station. Moreover, 94% of the observers stated that the layout of the voting area was suitable to voters with reduced mobility.

Presence of unauthorized persons inside polling stations was also reported by the observers at some places for instance at PS#139 a party official was seen inside the polling station. The observer re-ported that polling staff did not ask the party official to leave the venue.

About transparency and facilitation of the observes at the polling stations, CED observers reported obstruction by security officials from 10% of the sampled polling stations during the voting process. Surprisingly at PS#133 all polling agents along with observers were made to sit out of the polling room instead of being able to witness the proceedings. The polling stations where ECP’s accredited CED observers were unable to get in or gather information of voting process due to restrictions by security forces include PS#31, PS#49, PS#55, PS#133, PS#145, PS#253. These incidents not only un-dermine the authority of the ECP staff at the polling station but also raise questions about transpar-ency of procedure. The situation warrants corrective measures by the ECP including proper election processes orientation of the security staff being deployed on the polling stations.

The observers reported that 19% of sampled polling stations were overcrowded while at 7% unrest among the party polling agents was observed. At 16% sampled polling stations the observers sighted party campaign material and at 11% party campaign activity inside the building. Overall on an aver-age 1.3 discrepancies were reported from each sampled polling station during the voting process.

The observers also reported about presence of party polling agents during the day. PML (N) had presence of polling agents at 73% male sampled polling booths and 61% female polling booths. PTI had its polling agents present at 73% male polling booths and 75% female polling booths. The PPPP remained behind and it only had it presence at 25% male booths and 14% female booths during the voting process.

No major law and order situation was witnessed at the sampled polling stations during the CED ob-servation. The security situation generally remained in control of the law enforcement agencies. This tight control started affecting the observation process more as closing time approached. The ob-servers reported from various locations that the security personal asked them to leave the polling stations as soon as the polling time ends, implying that they would not be able to observe counting process at these polling stations.

About CED: CED is a civil society coalition for voter education, election observation and strengthening democratic institutions. Its secretariat is based at CPDI

Coalition for Election and Democracy
601 | Abu Dhabi Towers | Block B | F-11 Markaz | Islamabad | Pakistan
Tel: +92 (0) 51-8312794, 8312795 Fax +92 (0) 51 844 36 33

Exit Polls in NA-154 (Lodhran-I) By-Elections results shows that both PTI and PMLN Running Neck and Neck

 

 

Exit Polls in NA-154 (Lodhran-I) By-Elections results shows that both PTI and PMLN Running Neck and Neck

 

Monday (February 12, 2018)

The exit poll exercise conducted by the Coalition for Elections and Democracy (CED) in bye-elections of National Assembly Constituency NA-154 indicates that both principal parties running neck and neck. PTI candidate bagged 46.74% votes as against 45.55% votes bagged by PMLN candidate. The survey was conducted on a sample size of 1427 voters; including 917 males, 510 females. The responses were collected from 17% of sampled polling stations. Total number of Registered voters in the constituency is 4,31,002 including 2,36,496 male voters and 1,94,506 female voters. Total number of polling stations set up in the constituency is 338 with 1043 polling booths, 566 for male voters and 477 for female voters. This report presents the responses from the votes from sampled polling stations taken throughout the day. PPPP continued its dismal performance in the Punjab by claiming only 3.71% of the polled votes.

The analysis of exit poll data shows some interesting trends. The gender breakdown of the exit poll result shows that PMLN candidate attracted more males than females. PMLN vote mix contain 70% of male votes as against 30% of the female votes. For PTI, male-female ratio remained 58% to 42%.

The voting activity also has clear connection with educational qualifications of the voters. PMLN is a clear choice for 3 bottom educational groups that include illiterate, primary and matric. As the educational qualification increases, the voter base of PTI also increases. PTI enjoys majority among voters with educational qualification as Graduate, Masters and M.Phil/PhD.

The connection between age group and vote choice remained consistent with the past trends. PTI remained clear choice of younger voters. PTI enjoys a clear lead among voters from age group 18-22 and 23-35. As the voter grows in age, PMLN starts impressing them. PMLN is a clear favorite for the age groups 35-50, 51-65 and 65+.

The voter choice from different professional groups also remained consistent with the traditional trends. PTI enjoys popularity among students, housewives, government and private jobs groups. PMLN has majority among unemployed, daily wagers, industry workers, and self-employed groups.

About CED: CED is a civil society coalition for voter education, election observation and strengthening democratic institutions. Its secretariat is based at CPDI

Coalition for Election and Democracy
601 | Abu Dhabi Towers | Block B | F-11 Markaz | Islamabad | Pakistan
Tel: +92 (0) 51-8312794, 8312795 Fax +92 (0) 51 844 36 33

Women need a greater political role

With another by-election not featuring any woman candidate and a growing gap between registered male and female voters, there is a need to bring women into the political mainstream.

The call was made by the Centre for Peace and Development (CPDI), an independent not-for-profit civil society organisation working on issues of development and peace, on the eve of National Women’s Day.

CPDI noted that since 1983, seven governments have come and gone but there has been no substantial change in the status of women — apart from one that Pakistan got a woman prime minister.

Even as National Women’s Day is observed, a by-election in NA-154 Lodhran-I — where ten candidates are competing for the seat — none of them is a woman.

Pakistan fourth worst country for women: study

Moreover, it pointed out that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had unveiled that there were 97.02 million registered voters in Pakistan, of which 54.4 million were men while 42.2 million were women with a gap of over 12 million, a situation which the CPDI termed as perturbing.

Moreover, CPDI’s election observation reports reveal that despite the long struggle of women for political empowerment, their participation in the political process remains well below average.

The most recent example of this was the by-election in PP-20 Chakwal-I where CPDI observed low women voter turnout with 14 women voters on average casting their vote in an hour at sampled female polling booth as compared to 20 men at the male booths in the same time.

‘Employers should respect womens’ rights’ 

“ECP’s effort to mobilise women voters and the provisions of section 12 (C) of Elections Act 2017 have not paid off yet. The stakeholders need to take corrective measures to mainstream women in political life,” CPDI said.

Raja Shoaib Akbar, a senior programme manager at CPDI said that even though women in Pakistan have entered politics, thanks to the quota of reserved seats, the female population and a major segment of society remain alienated from active political participation, a limitation of true representation needs which needs to be taken seriously.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2018.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/1632472/1-women-need-greater-political-role/

‘73pc polling stations in NA-154 lack accessibility’

LAHORE: Accessibility audit of NA-154 polling stations showed distressing statistics as it appeared that 73 percent of the sampled polling stations didn’t meet the essential accessibility criteria.

This implies that persons with disabilities, elderly and the sick will not be able to make it to 73 percent of the polling stations on February 12, 2018 by-election in Lodhran-I.

The report was issued by Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE) to share findings of Accessibility Audit of polling stations in NA-154. The exercise is conducted before election day to gauge the opportunities available for persons with disabilities to access polling stations on voting day. A trained team of observers visited polling stations that were selected by a scientifically drawn sample.

According to a press release issued here Friday, the team started assessing the approach to the polling station building; statistics reveal that 17 percent polling stations do not have a firm and obstacle-free passage leading to the building. The 25 percent buildings do not provide a level access to the entrance of polling station and out of these, 92 percent buildings do not possess a ramp to facilitate wheelchair users in entering the polling stations. Observers also witnessed that in 23 percent cases protruding objects were reported outside the polling stations, causing obstacle on the way.

Entrance gates of all sampled polling stations are wider than minimum standard of 32 inches, but as witnessed by credible and experienced auditors of PAIE, usually the smaller gates remain open on election day instead of these larger gates. The larger gates are intentionally closed for legitimate reasons i.e. security and to avoid overcrowding in the polling stations. But the smaller gates possess multiple problems; first, the lesser opening width than minimum standard of 32 inches; second, the iron bar at lower edge of the metal gates that is always thicker than maximum door threshold standard of 6mm, third, the lower edge bar of the gates is generally two to three inches higher than ground causing another obstacle. All these points make it difficult for special persons and the elderly to enter polling stations thus making it inaccessible. If staff does not open larger gates for them on election day then 100 percent polling stations naturally become inaccessible for them. The ECP should make the polling stations precisely more accessible and should be mindful of these minute hurdles. The survey further revealed that the interior building and outer entrance of 65 percent polling stations were not on same level and only 10 percent ramps were reported in set sample size, no other facilities existed to facilitate the movement of special persons.

The study signified that even if the special persons and the elderly cross the main gate of the building 65 percent polling station buildings will still pose challenge and they will have to cross stairs to reach the polling area.

Availability of the light being one of the significant conditions of accessibility criteria, it was reported that only 17 percent of the polling stations possess exterior lighting arrangement, leaving 83 percent sampled polling station entrance unlit at the time of low visibility.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/279144-73pc-polling-stations-in-na-154-lack-accessibility