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Pak. clerics pitch for the vote

Anita Joshua
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Islamic obligation for all including women: fatwa

Encouraging move:A Pakistani couple walk past an electoral billboard with the message 'Pakistan is calling, your country your future', in Islamabad on Wednesday. — PHOTO: AFP
Encouraging move:A Pakistani couple walk past an electoral billboard with the message 'Pakistan is calling, your country your future', in Islamabad on Wednesday. — PHOTO: AFP

Religious scholars issued a fatwa on Thursday to declare the exercise of franchise compulsory under Islamic injunctions, amid reports from Buner and Peshawar in the north-west and Karachi down south that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was distributing pamphlets warning people against casting their vote.

Nearly 300 clerics met in the federal capital as part of an initiative spearheaded by Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) chairman Tahir Ashrafi and decided in favour of the vote as an Islamic obligation for all, including women.

In a departure from the past, when women were not allowed to vote in many parts of the country, a tribal woman from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has decided to to contest .

Pakistan has 37 million women registered voters of whom close to six lakh are from FATA alone.

In the 2008 general elections, not a single vote was cast in 564 out of 28,800 women’s polling stations.

As opposed to Pakistani-Canadian cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri — who has been carrying out a ‘vote4none’ campaign on social networking sites — the PUC-driven fatwa urges people to vote, even if the candidates in the fray do not offer much of a choice. Vote for the lesser evil, is their refrain.

The PUC has also come out with a booklet which deals with election issues in the Sharia, the purpose being to counter the extreme right-wing narrative that sees democracy as a Western import and thus is anti-Islamic. The decision of the ulema was widely welcomed.

Last week, as preparations were afoot to organise this conference, a regular columnist Tallat Azim welcomed it with a column titled “Finally a ‘ fatwa ’ to like”.

Several political parties sent their representatives to the meeting.

The fatwa assumes significance because of the TTP’s threats and the decision of Dr. Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek to picket polling stations on election day as part of its ‘vote4none’ campaign.

Given the low voter turnouts that have been the recurrent feature of Pakistan’s oft-interrupted democratic process, this fatwa is expected to complement ongoing efforts to get people out to the polling stations on May 11.

Apart from political parties, civil society groups and media organising events to encourage people to vote .

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