Itanagar, April 23: In stark contrast to low number of women candidates in Arunachal Pradesh’s recent simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections held on April 9, when it came to voter turnout, the fairer gender beat their male counterparts by 4.41 per cent and 5.79 per cent respectively.
An official statement from chief electoral officer yesterday said after the repolling held on April 19, the total percentage of votes cast for the two Lok Sabha seats stood at 76.96 per cent. With 79.16 per cent of women exercising their franchise rights across the state, male voters saw themselves edged out with their figure coming in at 74.75 per cent.
Like the Lok Sabha polls, women voters fared better than their male counterparts in the Assembly elections too. Female voter turnout crossed the 80 per cent mark with 81.29 women casting their votes while the figure for male voters was 75.50 per cent.
While women have traditionally played an important role in the state’s electoral politics, women’s issues do not figure too highly on the election agenda of any political party. Women voters fared much better than men, ironically not a single woman candidate has ever contested either of the two Lok Sabha seats. Omem Moyong Deori is the only woman from the state to have been an MP when she was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1984 to 1990.
At 88.69 per cent, the highest voter turnout was recorded at Palin Assembly constituency in Kurung Kumey district which falls under the Arunachal West parliamentary constituency. Nacho in Upper Subansiri district, which also falls under the same parliamentary constituency, recorded the lowest number at 56.25 per cent. For the Arunachal West parliamentary constituency, female voters formed 75.35 per cent of the total 73.39 per cent while 71.36 per cent of votes cast were by male voters. In the Arunachal East parliamentary constituency, the total voter turnout was exceptionally high at 82.04 per cent. Here, too, the women beat the men with 84.83 per cent of females casting their votes against 79.39 per cent of total male votes cast.
With the total voter turnout at 78.37 per cent, the state Assembly polls once again fared better in comparison to the Lok Sabha elections but saw a marginal decrease from 2009 when the figure stood at 79.50 per cent. With the exception of the state capital Itanagar, which recorded the lowest voter turnout of 54.68 per cent, voting in all 49 Assembly constituencies out of the 60 seats where election was held hit the 70 per cent mark. Four constituencies saw more than 90 per cent voting, including Khonsa West in Tirap district under the Arunachal East parliamentary constituency, which recorded 90.63 per cent — the highest across the state.
Out of the 49 Assembly constituencies where elections were held, there were only seven women MLA candidates in fray. Since its inception, the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly has had only nine elected women MLAs. Nyari Welly became the first woman to be elected to the Legislative Assembly when she won from the Seppa Assembly constituency in 1980 on a People’s Party of Arunachal ticket. Before her, Sibo Kai was the first woman MLA in the 1978 Assembly as a nominated member. The last Assembly had three women MLAs — Karya Bagang, Gum Tayeng and Nang Sati Mein.
This year, of a total 753,170 voters in the state, 377,272 were women.
The chairperson of the Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Commission, Gumri Ringu, feels that women themselves are partially to be blamed for the lack of attention given to gender issues.
“We live in a tribal society where women’s views are not given the same importance as those of men. Women themselves are responsible for not highlighting issues that matter to them,” says Ringu.
Ringu is not keeping her hopes too high from the next government either. Instead, she feels that women’s issues will not be addressed regardless of which party comes to power. “All candidates talk about addressing women’s concerns before elections but once they come to power, they go back on their poll promises,” she says.
One of the reasons that women’s issues are put on the backburner is because women politicians are often overlooked to give way to male politicians.
It is a trend that disturbs Ringu who says that women trying to make some headway in politics are often sidelined by their male colleagues. “How can our issues reach the limelight when senior female politicians are asked to make way for inexperienced male counterparts?”
She asks rhetorically and adds philosophically. “After all, only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches,” she said.