PESHAWAR - The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Thursday suspended the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold fresh by-elections in PK-95 Lower Dir constituency for barring women voters.

A division bench of the high court comprising the PHC Chief Justice Mazhar Alam and Justice Arshad Qaiser heard the petition filed by the winning candidate of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Aizazul Mulk against the ECP’s decision.

On June 2, the ECP had ordered re-polling in the constituency and set July 12 as the date for another round of elections in PK-95, after reports of barring women voters from casting their votes in the by-elections held in May on the constituency.

The JI winning candidate, Aizazul Mulk then challenged the ECP decision in the high court regarding re-elections in the constituency. During the hearing, the petitioner’s lawyers Ghulam Mohiuddin Malik and Muhammad Fida Gul told the bench that no political party and even the candidates stopped women voters from casting votes in the by-elections.

The lawyers further stated that the issue was raised by some Islamabad-based NGOs women and filed complaint in the ECP regarding disenfranchisement of women.

The petitioner, who is also JI’s chief of Lower Dir, maintained before the bench that the women who appeared before the court and claimed that they have been barred from voting belonged to a non-government organization (NGO).

Ayesha Syed, a JI MNA also informed the court that women were not barred from voting, but they had willingly not come out to vote.

Reportedly none of the around 53,000 women voters in the constituency turned up to exercise their right to vote during the by-elections held on May 7. The seat had fallen vacant because Jamaat-e-Islami Chief Sirajul Haq had resigned from it after being elected as a Senator.

The ECP took notice of the matter when reports emerged that political parties had in effect barred women from taking part in the electoral exercise and questions were raised about how such polls could be termed free and fair. In the light of the arguments, the PHC bench suspended the ECP’s decision of re-polling in PK-95.