Tajikstan works to prevent terrorism
Attacks on Pakistani natural gas pipelines hurt consumers, economy
Kyrgyzstan develops aviation transport services
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to promote cellular sector growth
FATA residents anxiously await first party-based voting
Party members are calling on the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure a free and fair election.
By Yasir Rehman
ISLAMABAD – As Pakistan's general election approaches, the 10 leading political parties are calling on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to ensure fair, transparent and accessible general elections in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
"I am optimistic that transparent party-based elections would bring a positive impact to the militancy-hit region," Sahibzada Haroon-ur-Rashid, chief of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in FATA, told Central Asia Online.
The election is expected to occur in May, and it will be the first-ever party-based elections in FATA.
The direct representation of tribespeople will "raise their confidence in the political process" and "mitigate their sense of deprivation," Ajmal Khan Wazir, central senior vice president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), said.
The elections will "bring [FATA residents] into the mainstream," Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam F (JUI-F) spokesman Abdul Jalil Jan told Central Asia Online.
The FATA Committee – comprised of the Awami National Party (ANP), JI, JUI-F, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the National Party, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the PML-Q, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Qaumi Watan Party – recommended January 8 that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the ECP work to increase Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) registration and voter registration in FATA.
The committee wrote to those agencies in January calling for free and fair elections.
A copy of the letter also went to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Governor Barrister Masood Kausar.
The letter said that the ECP should allow internally displaced persons (IDPs) to cast votes in camps, should ensure appointment of judicial officers from neighbouring settled districts to serve as returning officers, should establish polling stations within 2km of voters' homes and should regularly meet with FATA political party leaders to work together to address the numerous and complex electoral challenges in the region.
Establishing a model for future elections
FATA party-based voting became possible after Zardari in 2011 extended the Political Parties Act to FATA. Previously, FATA's 12 members in the National Assembly were elected independently and could not join any political party. The same restrictions applied to its senators.
Considering that this is the first time that FATA will participate in national elections on a party-based basis, it is of the utmost importance that the experience is smooth, transparent and fair, Haroon said.
FATA voting should be held under the eye of the judiciary to ensure this, he said.
Jan called for stability in FATA before elections and said that his party already has held peace jirgas in the tribal belt to help in this regard.
And woman voters must be encouraged to cast their vote as women constitute half of the population, Wazir said, welcoming the ECP's code of conduct for general elections.
With political reforms, FATA will also witness various political activities and tribespeople will become part of national politics, he added.
Elections to include all voters
Historically disenfranchised, FATA voters deserve increased efforts to facilitate their participation in the upcoming general elections, Arbab Tahir, the ANP general secretary in KP, told Central Asia Online.
"The ANP is ready to contest elections from FATA as our party has roots there and our party workers are active in South Waziristan, Bajaur and Khyber agencies," he said. NADRA and the ECP should increase efforts to register FATA voters and in this regard it should launch a targeted campaign immediately to provide FATA citizens with national identity cards and to register them as voters, he suggested.
"The campaign should place special emphasis on women throughout FATA and on IDPs living in camps inside FATA and in adjacent districts," he said.
Opening additional offices, deploying mobile registration units and expediting processes would improve significantly the issuance of national identity cards to those groups, he said.
The committee also called on the ECP to allow absentee voting for FATA IDPs living elsewhere, as more than 150,000 FATA voters could face disenfranchisement otherwise. Doing so would "ensure equal access to democratic participation," the letter said.