Cut Cellular Signals Leave Sujawal's Female Voters Stranded

Candidates could not coordinate with workers to mobilise voters; voters could not find their polling stations with cellular signals suspended

Cut Cellular Signals Leave Sujawal's Female Voters Stranded

The government's decision to suspend cellular services across the country on election day only disenfranchised millions of voters who were left clueless about their polling stations or coordinate travel to polling stations. Candidates and political parties, some of whom complained in writing, lost touch with their workers and supporters, impacting turnout.

This was painfully apparent in the southern district of Sujawal. Here, voters, especially women voters, rely on representatives of their preferred candidates to help them determine critical voting information such as where their polling station is, how they should vote and most importantly, how to get to the polling station and back.

The government had set up 1,124 polling booths at 359 polling stations for 424,328 registered voters in the district. Of these, 504 polling booths were dedicated for 191,250 women voters.

Women in the impoverished district are educationally disadvantaged. Their ability to read or write is either non-existent or very limited. Their access to technology, such as cellular devices, is even more limited than schools. Combined with the fact that elections occur barely two to three times a decade, they are unfamiliar with the voting process and heavily rely on representatives of political parties their tribal chiefs, landlords or caste elders decide.

On election day, the party provides them with transport and mobilises them to their respective polling stations. Party representatives feed their CNIC numbers through the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) system to determine their exact polling station and booth.

On Thursday, this entire process was disrupted due to the closure of cellular services. Parties could not coordinate with workers to transport the women in time.

For those brought to the relevant polling station, determining their census code, block code and family code - by sending their CNIC numbers to ECP's shortcode '8300' - proved difficult due to the disruption in cellular services.

Around ten female voters, who were sitting outside the Government Primary School Faiz Muhammad Jat polling station in the Sujawal - the female polling station at the school was dedicated for 881 female voters - said that the presiding officer turned them away because their names were not included in the voter lists for that polling station.

Haseena, a middle-aged woman, said that workers of the local Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate were kind enough to take her to three polling stations, but ultimately, it was futile as her name could not be found on the voter lists there.

She finally found her name listed at the Muhammad Jat polling station.

Similar incidents were reported from Tarr Khowaja, Begna Mori, Jati and Ghul Muhammad Garo polling stations.

In some instances, female voters accused presiding officers of compelling them to vote for the PPP candidate. 

They also complained of misbehaviour from the presiding officers. 

Peaceful polling in Sujawal

Baring the exchange of heated words at some places, the voting process was largely peaceful in Sujawal. 

In some instances, PPP agents could be seen arguing with presiding officers in Tarr Khowaja and the polling station of Jati. 

An untoward incident was reported from Patel Ismail Thaheem station, where a man identified as Muhammad Jumman was allegedly roughed up by the local Thaheem community after he allegedly harassed the polling staff. 

An agent of a political party disclosed on the condition of anonymity that supporters of their opponents had allegedly cast votes on behalf of voters who had passed away but whose name was retained in the voter rolls. 

When the presiding officer was informed about the illegality of the act, the officer refused to take action.

The returning officer immediately took action against him for violating the election code of conduct.

The author is a practicing lawyer and freelance journalist. His areas of interest are cultural diversity and socio-political issues of Sindh.