Articles 51 (2) and 106 (2) of the Constitution lay down the criteria for a voter for the National Assembly for the provincial assemblies respectively. Criteria for election as members of the National Assembly are listed in Article 62 of the Constitution and for disqualification in Article 63. The criteria listed in Article 62 apply to the Senate also. These articles are totally non-discriminatory.
The criteria for President of Pakistan are given in Article 41. Again there is no legal bar on a woman being elected as President. Article 41 however requires the President to be a Muslim and above 45 years of age.
The criteria for the election of the Prime Minister are the same as members of the National Assembly. The procedure governing the election of the Prime Minister is given in Article 91. Again there is no bar on a woman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. In practice Pakistan was the first Muslim country to elect a woman as Prime Minister.
Article 51 of the Constitution gives the composition and strength of the National Assembly. Until 2002 the National Assembly consisted of two hundred and seven Muslim members, ten members elected from the minority communities and 20 women members. The 20 reserved seats for women lapsed after the 3rd general elections held in 1988 since the commencing day of the Constitution. Women were however eligible to contest elections on general seats. Article 51 has since been amended under the Legal Framework Order promulgated in October 2002. The strength of the National Assembly has been increased to 342 with 60 reserved seats for women.
The composition and strength of the Senate is given in Article 59 of the Constitution. Until 2002 there were no reserved seats for women in the Senate. However article 59 has also been amended through the Legal Framework Order. The strength of the Senate has been increased from 87 to 100. There are now 17 reserved seats for women.
Article 106 of the Constitution governs the strength and composition of the provincial assemblies. Until the LFO there were 23 reserved seats for women in the provincial assemblies with 12 in the Punjab Assembly, 5 in the Sindh Assembly, 4 in the NWFP Assembly and 2 in the Balochistan Assembly. However under the amendments introduced to Article 106 through the LFO the number of reserved seats for women has been increased to 128 out of a total strength of 728. The percentage of reserved seats in the Senate, the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies is approximately 17%.
The numbers and proportion of women as mandated in the Legal Framework Order are given below:
TABLE 7.01 Legislative position regarding women’s representation
Thus there is no restriction or bar on women in Pakistan to participate in any manner of political activity. This includes the right to vote in all elections, public referenda and to be eligible to all publicly elected bodies or positions. The amendments introduced through the LFO constitute significant affirmative action.
Major laws for the conduct of elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies are the Representation of the People Act, 1976 and the Representation of the People (Conduct of Election) Rules, 1977. Election to the Senate (Upper House) is held according to the relevant legal provisions contained in the Senate (Election) Act, 1975, the Senate (Members from Federal Capital) Order, 1985 and 1988 and the Senate (Election) Rules, 1975.
The Electoral Rolls Act, 1974 and the Electoral Rolls Rules, 1974 deal with preparation, annual revision, amendment and maintenance of the lists of voters. The constituencies of the National and Provincial Assemblies are demarcated in accordance with the provisions of the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974.
The Political Parties Order 2002 governs the conduct of political parties and the Conduct of General Elections Order 2002 was enacted to facilitate holding the October 2002 elections. The other relevant law is the Election Commission Order 2002.
The Local Government Ordinance, 2001, governs elections to the local bodies.
Elections to the general seats of the National and the Provincial Assemblies are held on the basis of first-past-the-post system. However, elections to the seats reserved for women and technocrats are be on a party list system.
Election to the Senate of Pakistan is conducted on the basis of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote.
All these laws and rules are non-discriminatory and impose no restrictions on women.
The administrative framework consists of the office of the Election Commission established under Article 218 of the Constitution. The duties of the Chief Election Commissioner are a) Preparing electoral rolls for election to the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies, and revising such rolls annually; b) Organizing and conducting election to the Senate or to fill casual vacancies in a House or a Provincial Assembly; and c) Appointing Election Tribunals.
The Representation of the People Act, 1976 and Representation of the People (Conduct of Elections) Rules 1977 contain provisions on the conduct of elections and penalties for violating these. Additionally the Pakistan Penal Code also contains provisions relating to elections in Section 171, sub-sections “A” to “J”. Of these sub-sections “A”, “C” and “J” are relevant.
The above mentioned laws and Constitutional provisions are quite comprehensive and can be said to cover almost all situations where women are likely to be deprived of their right to political participation either as voters or as candidates. The main difficulty is in implementation of the laws. Weak implementation can be attributed to lack of training and resources of the law enforcing authorities, the failure of persons including women whose electoral rights have been violated to come forward and file complaints and lack of witnesses to substantiate the complaint.