PAKISTAN: 38 million people are denied their right to vote

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has denied voting rights to 38 million people for the upcoming November 2007 elections. Most of the persons who have been are women.  In the previous elections, held in 2002, 71.86 million people were registered as voters. However, in contrast, the ECP has issued a list of only 56 million eligible voters for the upcoming election.

According to several civil society organisations like the Sungi Development Foundation and the Strengthening Participatory Organisation, in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), over 59 percent of women have been denied their voting rights due to their exclusion on the list of voters.  The numbers are comparable to those in the Sindh province where 3.01 million (53.5 percent) women voters are also not registered, in Punjab where 7.1 million (48 percent) women voters have been similarly disenfranchised, and in Balochistan where 1.11 million (24 percent) women voters have been .

The primary feature of the electoral list is that it is based on a separate electoral system contrary, to the government’s claim that elections are being held in a joint electoral system.  The Ahmadiyya community names are listed separately from those of the Muslims and non-Muslim communities.  By being listed separately from Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the Ahmadiyya community faces further discrimination.

Furthermore, the military government is distorting the election process through the ECP to conform to the government’s own agenda. It is estimated that in the 2007 elections, at least 88 million voters should be eligible to vote based on the population growth rate of 2.7% per annum. In the 2002 elections there were 71.86 million voters, therefore how is it possible that in 2007 the numbers dwindle to a mere 56 million, obviously not reflecting the country’s population growth? The answer lies in the fact that the government wants to control the voter lists by deleting those names belonging to the constituencies of the opposing parties. Although the government has assured the international community that the ECP would be independent in all its procedures, without government interference, through this method of disenfranchising their opposition, the government has ensured that the 2007 elections cannot and will not be fair and free.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is concerned that through these methods the Pakistani government is manipulating the elections in its favour.  It is not possible to hold free and fair elections when millions of people are denied their voting rights, although the government insists that the 2007 elections will indeed, be fair and free. The AHRC urges the government to establish a joint electorate system in Pakistan, free of discrimination against any sect or minority. In 2002, the government did introduce a joint electoral system.  However, President General Musharraf issued an order calling for separate lists for Ahmadis.  Such action was discriminatory towards the Ahmadis, a community already facing violent discrimination from the Muslim fundamentalist, by singling them out as they attempted to register and vote.

The AHRC is also concerned about the issue of women’s rights.  The gender gap in voter registration suggests political motive may be a factor in voting registration, through which more than 12.5 million women have been .

By denying the right to vote of millions of women, the government of Pakistan is strengthening the fundamentalist forces that do not approve of women in mainstream politics. Women have also faced difficulties in attempting to go to the display centers in order to verify their names and information.

The AHRC urges the government of General Musharraf to hold free and fair elections through an independent Election Commission that has the consensus from all the political groups of the country. The electoral process should be made transparent. The elections should be based on a joint electoral system, and the protection of women and minorities should be guaranteed.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-153-2007
Countries : Pakistan,