Differently-abled persons eager to exercise right to vote

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Individuals with disabilities in Shangla encounter challenges reaching polling stations, expressing concerns about their voting rights as general elections have been scheduled by the Election Commission of Pakistan in February 2024.
Ezat Ali is a physically differently-abled person from a remote Banjar area of Shangla who did not cast his vote in the last general elections held in 2018 due to inaccessible polling station and his physical conditions.
“We can’t use our right to vote because of inaccessible polling stations and not receiving ballot votes. In the last local body elections, I was taken to the polling station by a local village council candidate in the Charpoy but was lying there till the results were announced,” Ezat Ali regretted.
Shangla is the backward mountainous district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, located in the north of the province and 70 percent of the population work as coalminer in different parts of the country to feed their families back in Shangla.
According to the social welfare department, Shangla, over 7000 crippled are registered with it, and Hussain Ali, a spinal cord injury crippled man, who works on the physically-challenged person’s welfare, said he had collected data from over 450 persons both male and female of spinal cord injury disability.
These handicapped persons encounter different kinds of problems in their life and the ratio of crippled is higher than in the other parts of the country because most persons in Shangla have been injured in coalmine incidents.
Hussain Ali said, he had received a ballot paper only for the national assembly and his provincial candidate’s ballot paper was missing for which he had repeatedly contacted the post office but their replays were not satisfactory.
“We want our right of vote through which we can elect a representative and he has to enact policies for the welfare of our community which has been deprived of all fundamental rights and live a miserable life,” Mr Ali said.
Habiba Bibi, a crippled woman from Olandar, Shahpur has never voted in her life before and after her disability because of inaccessible polling stations established by the election commission of Pakistan in the public buildings which were far away from her residence.
She claimed even physically normal women in their village avoid to use right of vote because of cultural obstacles and lack of awareness among them, however she wanted to cast her vote through ballot if received in the upcoming general elections.
According to Rights of Persons with Disability act 2O20, section 16 mentioned that Persons with disabilities shall have full right to participate in the political activity in the country including exercising right of vote and right to be elected to an elected body.
The law said the Election Commission of Pakistan shall ensure that each polling station is accessible to persons with disabilities and necessary arrangements are made for them to cast their votes confidentially and without any difficulty.
A study conducted by CPDI-Pakistan in 2018 “Electoral and Political Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Pakistan” KP has total 375752 crippled persons, 327638 in Rural and 48114 rural.
According to ECP 2023, 456,210 are registered voters in Shangla, 243,038 male and 213,172 female registered voters.
Hussain Ali said a meeting was held regarding exercising their votes in upcoming general elections at the district election commission office in Alpuri around three months ago where they informed the ECP officials about their grievances afterward they formed a committee in which one of their community persons, Salahudin was included as a member of the committee.
“We have also complained about stealing of our ballot votes allegedly from the post offices and requested the ECP officials to ensure safely dispatch of vote and its return,” He said and claimed most very few persons had received the ballot vote in the 2018 elections.
Abdul Mateen, a spinal cord injury, physically-challenged person from Larai, Lilownai said they lived in other people lands to safeguard their properties and they usually vote on the dictation of their landlords.
He said they had highlighted the ballot vote, accessibility to polling station and basic facility issues at polling stations during open courts (Kulli Kutchehry) and other occasions but to no avail.
Inayat Ur Rehman, district election commissioner, Shangla, told that special measures were being taken for the physically differently-abled persons so that they exercise their right of vote in the next general elections.
Replying to a question, ECP official said basic facilities required for the elderly and individuals with disabilities would also be ensured at the polling stations, besides increasing the number of polling stations.
He said their priority in the elections would be to safely dispatch the ballot votes to persons with disabilities to their houses.

Challenges for persons with disabilities in Shangla

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