Should persons with disabilities be part of the electoral process and contribute to the public accountability of elected representatives? Although 98 census puts figures of disabled persons in the country at 2.5 % of the total population in the country, disability organizations have always contested this figure suggesting that disabled population is closer to around 10 % of the total population. This population of persons with disabilities has special needs characterized by the nature of different disabilities. Persons with disabilities have to face multiple barriers owing to their different disabilities. They can only take part in mainstream life if attitudinal, social and physical barriers are removed. Persons with disabilities can only ensure public accountability of elected representatives with regard to the realization of their special needs and creating a barrier free environment if they are able to exercise their vote power. We all know that like any other power, vote power only has value when it can be exercised. Can voters with disabilities exercise their vote power independently, in secret and with dignity like their non-disabled peers? What access barriers do voters with disabilities face while casting their votes? What is the policy of the Election Commission of Pakistan in this regard? People with disabilities face manifold barriers that hamper their participation in the political process. Some of these are attitudinal and others physical About the voting rights of the disabled persons, EC maintains, “Where an elector is blind or incapacitated and cannot vote without the assistance of a companion the presiding officer shall allow him such assistance”. This statement pays greater emphasis on the goodness of human nature rather than providing the equal opportunity environment to the voter with disabilities. It presupposes that allowance of the assistance of the presiding officer will help the disabled voter cast his vote independently, in secrecy and with dignity. This approach is a very limited one and offers assistance only at the polling station. It does not spell out off-site help to those PWDs who cannot come to the polling stations. We need to make Bill of electoral rights for citizens with disabilities part of our efforts to make electoral process inclusive for persons with disabilities. This bill was “drafted and endorsed by participants attending a four-day workshop held from 14-17 September 2002, in Sigtuna, Sweden. This bill calls on all states to meet their obligations in providing equal opportunity environment to the citizens with disabilities so that they could exercise their universal right of equal participation in the electoral process. Furthermore, Election Commission of Pakistan should adopt Standards of electoral access for citizens with disabilities. These standards can be very useful in our context and we will not have to reinvent the wheel. These standards address all issues pertaining to the voting rights of PWDs like non-discrimination, the state’s obligation to “overcome specific difficulties”, the right to a secret vote in public, providing options to the voters with disabilities in deciding the alternative ways they want to cast their votes, assistive voting, off-site voting and promulgation of instructions to the polling staff regarding voters with disabilities. [These standards can be very useful in our context and we will not have to reinvent the wheel. These standards address all issues pertaining to the voting rights of PWDs like non-discrimination, the state’s obligation to “overcome specific difficulties”, the right to a secret vote in public, providing options to the voters with disabilities in deciding the alternative ways they want to cast their votes, assistive voting, off-site voting and promulgation of instructions to the polling staff regarding voters with disabilities. Furthermore, Election Commission of Pakistan should adopt Standards of electoral access for citizens with disabilities.

Spread the word

Leave a Reply