Improving Electoral Access in Pakistan
Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guarantees the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in political and public life on an equal basis with other citizens. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) took on this important issue during the “Conference on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Electoral Processes” from September 3-4, 2014.
The conference brought together national and international electoral experts and representatives from disabled persons organizations (DPOs), other civil society groups, government departments and United Nations organizations to explore the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in exercising their rights to vote and be elected to public office. Participants discussed many of the legal and practical obstacles to electoral participation in Pakistan, and learned about initiatives in Indonesia and the Philippines that make the process in those countries more accessible.
Yusuf Khan, founder of Malakand Disability Forum, which brings together DPOs working in several remote districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, appreciated the network the conference provided. “[It gave] me an opportunity to meet and interact with the experts working in the areas of persons with disabilities for the first time, learn about international experiences and interact with different national and international departments working [in that area],” said Khan.
During the conference, there were many concrete recommendations and commitments to support inclusiveness and reform ahead of the 2018 general elections. For its part, IFES has committed to:
• Reviewing all election laws to see what should be done to improve the legislation to improve the electoral process for persons with disabilities;
• Consulting DPOs while working with the ECP to conduct polling staff trainings;
• Conducting a nationwide survey to look into needs of persons with disabilities, in the absence of a census; and
• Ensuring that all voter and civic education material developed by IFES will be sensitive to persons with disabilities.
At the end of the conference, participants endorsed the Islamabad Declaration on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Processes, which lays out 10 points to improve the electoral process. IFES and the ECP will use the recommendations to shape electoral reform and education initiatives to ensure that the 2018 general elections are more inclusive than in 2013. One participant noted, “The best part of the conference is the declaration which gives us hope and enthusiasm to work with the ECP and IFES in future to include persons with disabilities in the electoral process.”