FAFEN Urges Reforms for Fair Geographical Representation on Seats Reserved for Women
ISLAMABAD, February 2, 2023: Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has called for introducing divisional quotas for seats reserved for women in the National and Provincial Assemblies to ensure the geographical representativeness of women as well as to incentivize their greater political role in the areas where women’s participation is marginal.
In disregard to the spirit of the reservation i.e. greater representativeness, the existing method of considering the entire province as a single constituency for election on the reserved seats allows the political parties to select the candidates from any areas of their choice. This has resulted in an uneven distribution of quotas with few divisions and districts monopolizing the representation while a majority of districts and divisions remain unrepresented. In the incumbent National Assembly, as many as five out of 29 administrative divisions across the country are over-represented in terms of allocation of the women-reserved seats, eight are represented in proportionate to their population, while 16 have no representation at all.
Currently, 57 percent of the representatives elected on seats reserved for women in the National Assembly are residents of only six cities – Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta – as per their nomination papers. Similarly, most representatives elected on women-reserved seats of the provincial assemblies in 2018 had mentioned residential addresses in the provincial capitals in their nomination papers. As many as 59 percent of women elected on reserved seats in the Punjab Assembly hailed from Lahore, 66 percent in Sindh Assembly from Karachi, 73 percent in Balochistan Assembly from Quetta, and 50 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly from Peshawar.
FAFEN proposes to amend Sections 19(2) and 19(5) of the Elections Act, 2017 in order to provide for administrative divisions as territorial constituencies in a province for the seats reserved for women under Articles 51(3) and 106(1) of the Constitution. Currently, these sections of the Elections Act, 2017 merely reproduce the constitutional provisions of Articles 51(6)(b) and 106(3)(b). FAFEN believes that Article 51(6)(d) read with Article 34 of the Constitution provides a legislative space to the Parliament for allowance of divisional representation on reserved seats through an amendment in the Elections Act, 2017 without requiring a constitutional amendment. While considering such a legislative proposal, the Parliament should also address the cases where the number of seats allocated to a province is less than the number of administrative divisions in the province.
The territorial constituencies within the province will also allow for the appointment of multiple Returning Officers for women-reserved seats enabling women to attend the nomination and scrutiny processes closer to their homes as Section 51(1) of the Elections Act, 2017 requires the ECP to appoint one Returning Officer for each constituency.
According to the residential addresses of the reserved-seat women legislators, as many as 105 of 136 districts that existed at the time of GE-2018 had no women representative in the National Assembly on reserved seats. Province-wise, 23 districts in Punjab, 32 in Balochistan, 30 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 20 in Sindh have no representation of women on reserved seats in the National Assembly.
First published on FAFEN's website, this statement is also available in Urdu.