Disability Inclusive Political Participation

The Second Strategic Plan (2014-2018) of Election Commission of Pakistan corresponds very little in terms of fulfilling the right of Persons with Disabilities political participation and it needs through review considering the fact that after ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), it has become State’s obligation to enforce all UNCRPD Articles by providing ample facilities to the Persons with Disabilities for enjoying their legal rights.  Article-29 of the UNCRPD calls on the States to ensure that Persons with Disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life. Even in the most difficult elections situations, the rights of Persons with Disabilities can be recognized. In addition to this, STEP organizes policy dialogues on various issues which are being faced by the persons with disabilities. Below is a list of policy dialogues organized by STEP:

The Representation of the People Act, 1976 (ACT NO. LXXXV OF 1976):

ROPA protects the right to vote of persons with disabilities. Under this act persons with disabilities are allowed to select his/her own attendant in order to fulfill the national duty to ballot. Persons with disabilities can take his/her attendant to the polling booth and make sure his/her to cast vote accurately and secretly.

United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD):

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) serves as the guiding framework and provides the legal basis and a set of standards for the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in public life. Articles 29 and 12 are particularly relevant to election-related activities. In support of the UNCRPD’s objectives, there are four mutually supportive strategies to increase the political participation of persons with disabilities:

  • Building the capacity of DPOs and empower their members through trainings on the electoral system, government structure, and basic organizational and advocacy skills. This helps build the political profile of DPOs and enables organizations to get their issues onto the political agenda.
  • Supporting government institutions such as legislatures and election management bodies (EMBs) to create legal and regulatory frameworks that provide an opportunity to increase political participation of persons with disabilities and encourage partnerships with DPOs.
  • Including DPOs in broad-based civil society coalitions to conduct domestic election observation or voter education campaigns.
  • Assisting political parties to conduct meaningful outreach to persons with disabilities when creating election campaign strategies and developing policy positions, and encourage parties to include persons with disabilities as candidates and in leadership roles.

Policy Provisions in Pakistan

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) face a number of barriers to participation in this process in Pakistan. These include getting a computerized national Identity card, registration in electoral rolls as voters, transportation to polling booth and casting the vote. Furthermore, in the absence of special arrangements by the state for persons with disabilities such as accessible polling stations, tactile voting devices or large print versions of ballot paper for visually impaired people; the right to request assistance in voting; and the right of secrecy; it’s nearly impossible for a person with disability to be a part of election process. Persons with intellectual disabilities are fully excluded by our law that they are unable to participate in the political process of Pakistan. Compounding the logistical challenges is a lack of interest displayed by national political parties, the parliament and the ECP in actually encouraging greater participation and enacting laws or policies that allow persons with disabilities this right. Equal Access highlights challenges in implementation of inclusive election programming, such as:

  • Lack of available data on the number and location of persons with disabilities in developing countries
  • Social Discrimination
  • Politically challenging operating environments where citizen participation is discouraged by government authorities
  • Mandatory voting provisions that may fine persons with disabilities for not voting or automatically remove them from voter lists
  • Scarcity of leadership opportunities for persons with disabilities
  • Limited capacity of local EMBs to implement accessible technology solutions

Activities for Political Participation

In 2016, STEP developed a policy brief on the political participation of PWDs in electoral process. In this policy brief, the main goal of the recommendations on inclusive elections was how PWDs could be active involved in the electoral phases.  This policy brief also suggested changes in the existing Second Five-Year Strategic Plan (2014-2018) so that the system in place must ensure that all measures are put in place (voters’ registration, assistive technologies, transportation means, capacity-building of the election staff, etc.) to facilitate the involvement of PWDs (hearing impaired, visual impaired, cognitive/intellectually impaired, physical impaired, and those having multiple impairments) to contribute at every stage in the electoral process. 

STEP conducted a Scoping Study in 2016 titled “Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Processes in Pakistan”. This project was supported by International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which has an extensive experience leading initiative around the world that promote the electoral and political enfranchisement of persons with disabilities. Globally, IFES works with a cross-section of disabled persons’ organizations as well as with other civil society groups and governments in order to make the political process more inclusive.

The recommendations mentioned in this study provided a base for developing policy briefs and afterwards organizing policy dialogues at national and provincial levels with the stakeholders to bridge the policy gaps and coming up with a draft policy for inclusion of persons with disabilities in electoral and political processes.

Based on the literature review, the study gave an insight into the details of barriers faced by the persons with disabilities and provides solutions to remove those barriers. A preliminary data finding was presented in this study to make a comparison with other countries in the world. This scoping study mapped out a plan of action for policy reforms and brought forth practical recommendations to have next elections in the country as much inclusive as they can be.

Ensuring Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Electoral Process Observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities
12 December 2017

Group Picture Conference on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Processes

Conference on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Electoral Processes
3-4 September 2014, Islamabad - Pakistan