Citizens` Campaigns for Women`s Participation in Local Government Elections 2001 and 2005


This Citizens’ Report is not going to capture the ‘behind-the-scenes’ process of the 2005 Local Government elections. This Report gives instead some valuable information of the socioeconomic backdrop to the electoral processes in 2001 and 2005 in the form of the district profiles of the 105 districts, some glimpses of the two Campaigns, (for which the material from the Citizens’ Report of 2001 was used again,) and the overall results of the Campaigns, a part of which we could take credit for.

The Beginning of the End

In response to the continued pressure of the women’s rights organizations, the Government of Pakistan reserved 33 percent seats for women at all tiers of local government for Local Government elections scheduled in 2001, with direct elections to the reserved seats for women at the lowest tier, i.e. at the union council level. Some reservations were expressed by the ruling Party about the actual availability of such a large number of women willing to come forward to stand for direct elections at the level of the union council.

To ensure maximum participation of women, Aurat Foundation (AF), activated and organized its networks to undertake the ‘Citizen’s Campaign for Women’s Representation in Local Government’ to mobilize support for women to come forward to contest as candidates in the Local Government elections held in 2001 under the new law. The result was beyond all expectations as over 90 percent of the seats were occupied after the final count of the ballots was done, and around 32,222 were elected as union councilors.

Before the new councilors had taken an oath, Aurat Foundation had been able to elicit financial commitments for a follow-up Programme for strengthening women for local level governance. Under this Programme, Resource Centres for women councilors (funded by CIDA) were set up in 70 districts and linked with the groups of voluntary activists in the Citizens’ Action Committees network of the Foundation. This involvement with the Resource Centres has enabled women councilors to have access to an actual physical place to interact with their constituents with the freedom and ease they would not have been able to enjoy at home with their family responsibilities. Furthermore, they have found in these Centres the political space to strengthen their capacities to address the demands of the electorate. The experience and immediate assistance of the Citizens Action Committees have also supported the women to play an active role in handling the problems of their constituents, most of whom are women. Documentation of the experience of the first set of women councilors elected under the new system is also being done.

Aurat Foundation decided that at this stage what was required was not an occasional campaign to support these public representatives directly elected by their constituents, but a sustained process to firmly place these women in the political system, that is, a citizens’ movement, and not solitary events. This should also reflect an advanced stage of the struggle for women’s political empowerment because our political agenda was no longer just ‘representation’, but ‘leadership’ in Local Government. All future Campaigns would, therefore, be a part of the ‘Citizens’ Movement for Women’s Leadership in Local Government’.

In June 2005, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced fresh elections to Local Government. Following the same spirit and aspirations as in 2001, AF and its network in 105 districts, launched another countrywide campaign for ‘Women’s Participation in Local Government Elections 2005 (WPLGE)’ to mainstream women in political structures and decision-making at the lowest tier of governance in Pakistan. The Campaign would mobilize and facilitate women candidates to contest elections to 24,508 seats in 6127 union councils in Pakistan as well as for 33 percent reserved seats in the tehsil and district councils. AF set up the Campaign structure as before at the AF headquarters in Lahore and in all five AF regional offices, to plan, coordinate and execute the activities required. At the district level, 104 District Coordination Committees were formed along with 27 tehsil/taluka and 20 Town committees from among the existing AF networks of the Citizens Action Committees, etc.

The four Provincial Governments in Pakistan, reluctant to share power and resources with the Local Governments elected in 2001, demanded some fundamental changes in the Local Government Ordinance before the next elections as a pre-condition to accepting the new tier of governance. They pushed for amendments to the LGO that were finally made at the last minute on 6th June 2005. These major amendments reduced the number of seats in a union council from 21 to 13, increased the powers of provincial chief ministers, and appointed caretaker administrations to replace nazims during the election period, and created a system of electing district and tehsil naib nazims.

The amendments sparked off a widespread protest across the country, in which AF played a major role and coordinated a countrywide protest by the district level networks, especially against the reduction in seats. In the end, after considerable lobbying by NGOs like AF, it was decided to reduce women’s seats to 4 rather than 3.

As the electoral process continued in 2005 it undermined the process of devolution itself. The Local Government elections, held on a non-party basis in Pakistan, turned into a sham as political parties actively backed selected candidates. Manipulation of the electoral process and rigging of the election results took place in many constituencies across the country, as instances of chaos, violence, and disruption in voting was reported at a relatively high number of polling stations, particularly in Sindh and Punjab provinces, by independent observers e.g. the International Crisis Group. The ruling party and the government administration were visible in most of these violations, which brought the autonomy of the Election Commission of Pakistan into question.

This left no room for the socially and politically weak, especially the women, to have any stake in the process. Both the activists and the majority of candidates, particularly women, felt cheated and disheartened. This is despite the fact that the results of women’s participation in the 2005 Local Government elections were very encouraging. In the 54 districts where Local Government Elections were held in the first phase, altogether 98.3 percent seats reserved for women in the union councils were filled. The results of the 56 remaining districts in the second phase showed 95.63 of these reserved seats were filled. Some of the major achievements of the project were the mobilization of 156,925 women candidates, the training of 40,178 women candidates, and the ‘coaching’ of 112,298 persons at facilitation camps. In addition, AF helped with the preparation of 38,860 identity cards and the registration of 31,804 voters.

While AF was committed to working actively with the Election Commission and supporting women’s participation in the election, it felt morally obligated to condemn the corruption of the election process. A national AF consultation called in Islamabad in September 2005 with the partner networks confirmed large scale tampering with the electoral results. It was realized by all present in the Consultation that the local level activists in our networks could not take on the local political elites at this stage of their own evolution as an emerging social force. But since they were determined to distance themselves from the unethical political activities, it was decided to stay out of the third phase elections for the tehsil and district councils. Seminars and public meetings would be held to raise the issue of election rigging. These seminars and workshops were held but the devastating earthquake on 8th October in NWFP and Azad Kashmir shifted the public focus and concern away from the ‘unfair and unfree elections.’

This Citizens’ Report is not going to capture the ‘behind-the-scenes’ process of the 2005 Local Government elections. The District Coordination Committees did not have much to report, which meant that there was a familiarity with the new system of elections, a general social acceptance of women’s role as candidates because they did not seem to ‘rock the boat’ as much as was expected by their opponents, (it was, as we said, a ‘silent revolution’!), and the full and active participation of the political parties did not leave much political space and scope for the citizens to mobilize and intervene on behalf of the women, except at the time of monitoring on polling day, if that was possible.

This Report gives instead some valuable information of the socioeconomic backdrop to the electoral processes in 2001 and 2005 in the form of the district profiles of the 105 districts, some glimpses of the two Campaigns, (for which the material from the Citizens’ Report of 2001 was used again,) and the overall results of the Campaigns, a part of which we could take credit for. But much more so in 2001 than in 2005! Any hope that the new system of Local Government was really going to allow the people to control their own destinies, flickered out even before it could become a flame. The ease with which the provincial governments pushed forward their own agenda through amendments and manipulation of election results, gave a clear signal that these public representatives wanted no sharing of power with any ‘local competitors in their backyards’. The National Reconstruction Bureau of the Federal Government whose ‘baby’ the Local Government Ordinance 2000 was, looked on almost indulgently while making the required noises. Any system that could be subverted so easily and so soon, was always designed to be incapable of transferring an atom of power to the people! The introduction to the First Citizens’ Campaign Report was titled ‘The Beginning of the Beginning’. It is only appropriate that we title the introduction to the Second Citizen’s Campaign Report as ‘The Beginning of the End’.

Nigar Ahmad
Executive Director
Aurat Foundation

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