Elections in Pakistan in July 2018 carry the potential for remarkable changes for gender-inclusive and democratic developments of the country’s political and electoral system. As reported by local and international media, polls already display unexpected and novel features with regards to women’s expected electoral and political participation.
According to local newspapers and the Election Commission, the overall number of citizens who are able and willing to cast their vote in July has shown an upward trend by almost 23%, if compared to 2013. According to Geo.tv, this increase is directly related to the sharply increasing number of women and minorities who have registered as voters.
Simultaneously, ECP’s most recent data also reveals an overall increase in the number of women who have filed their nomination papers to run for a seat in one of the country’s assemblies. With more than 1,691 female candidates ready to contest in the elections as compared to 1,171 in the last round of voting, Pakistan seems to be taking an historical step towards a more gender-inclusive political and electoral system.
As an international organization that conducted Gender Election Observation Missions (GEOMs 2008 and 2013, Gender Concerns International will continue to advocate for women’s inclusion in electoral and political procedures, and will follow future developments in Pakistani elections with keen interest.
In May 2013, the National Assembly elections in Pakistan marked the country’s clear transition and commitment to a democratic and inclusive political regime. Four years later, on 25 July 2018, Pakistani citizens will be called to renew such commitment through a new set of General Elections in a context of growing political uncertainty due to severe tensions between the ruling PML-N Party and the country’s military groups. On 31 of May, the former government and Parliament were dissolved and an interim administration aimed at supervising the electoral procedures initiated its works. Together with the provisional government, a number of judicial and international organizations will be monitoring the outcome of the elections, including the European Union Election Observation Mission.
Indeed, even though elections in 2013 have marked an historical moment in the country’s history, the path to a fully-operative and inclusive democratic system is still a long one. As observed by Gender Concerns International during the 2013 Gender Elections Observation Mission ( GEOM), many women all over the country were still denied the constitutional right to vote. Moreover, even after the elections in 2013, the rates of female presence in the newly elected democratic institutions were insufficient. In this sense, the upcoming General Elections in July 2018 represent a potential catalyst for definite change in women’s democratic participation in Pakistan.
Attempts have been made to promote a more inclusive system, such as the 2017 Elections Act, focused on the new role of women and minorities within the democratic framework. Specifically, the Elections Act provides that each political party running for the next elections will destine at least 5% of its seats in the National Assembly to female candidates and that the Election Commission of Pakistan ( ECP) will nullify electoral results in polling stations where women’s turnout is less than 10% or where, as occurred in 2013, their right to vote and participate is denied or hampered. Such measures, if fully implemented and monitored, will play a fundamental role in strengthening the country’s long-term and sustainable democratic commitment, starting from the next 2018 elections.
International and national observers for the 2018 General Elections will include, together with the EU Mission ( EU EOM), the Free and Fair Election Network ( FAFEN) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The ECP has also appointed a list of national and local monitoring agents and teams that will be employed in the electoral procedures in each of the country’s constituencies.
Gender Concerns International will be observing the development and outcome of the elections based on the findings of international and regional observers in Pakistan and will continue to advocate for stronger and more inclusive democratic institutions as well as the fair implementation and improvement of existing democratic rights and laws.