Monday, December 6, 2021

Polling Day Pakistan Election 2013 – PTI, MQM and PML-N tussle among allegations of rigging – Voting feels like a Victory

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My hard-won inked thumb

Election Day was one of those “I was there” moments that only happen a handful of times in a person’s lifetime. It was an inspiring, frustrating, tiring and disheartening day for many new voters. There were highs, particularly where voting went smoothly but, especially in Karachi, there were many, many lows.

All day Sunday magazine posted pics of celebs like Umair Tabani voting on its Facebook page
This is the one election I have experienced where most of the people I know have turned out to vote. Experiences varied widely. Friends and family in Lahore were done in around half an hour on average. A few lucky voters in Karachi also reported short queues. At Bath Island polling station no one took longer than 45 minutes to vote although funnily enough there was a “shortage” of ballots boxes so votes for both the National and Provincial Assemblies had to be posted in one box.
These voters in Phase IV Defence Karachi never got to vote
The rest of Clifton and Defence was another story altogether. NA-250 was notorious because ballot papers arrived late all over the constituency and in some polling stations voting never got underway. Friends reported waiting up to 11 hours to be able to vote. Those who managed to vote in a mere three or four hours felt lucky. Nevertheless, apart from those who polling stations never opened, people were generally psyched to be voting. All day my whatsapped pinged with pictures of inked thumbs and smiling faces.
Happy to have voted
I was at polling station 70 in NA-250. At my polling station, voting started about an hour late after voters in line requested Rangers to make them open up. When I arrived at 10:30 there were perhaps 100 women in line before the gate, and lots more inside. Men were allowed in five or ten at a time and emerged every 20 minutes. Only one woman on average emerged every 20 minutes. Those inside complained that the women presiding officers (from Landi) were purposely going slow. It took till 1:30 to get to the gate.
This was the small line at 10:30 am. It would be 6 pm before these women could vote
There was great camaraderie in the line. We were all determined to vote and overwhelmingly it seemed for Imran Khan. There were plenty of cricket shirts and Imran Khan scarves on display. People of all parties were helping each other, distributing water, letting seniors go in front and generally there was an atmosphere of hope. People bought each other ice-creams, juice and biscuits. The owner of Anjarwala Bakery who was in line like the rest of us sent sandwiches, tarts and samosas. We joked that this was just like being on a picnic: heat, sunburn and all.
Sandwiches for hungry voters who’d been waiting 5 hours on average by this point
Eventually (after waiting 3 hours in the sun) we were allowed inside the polling station. It would be a further 4 and a half hours before we left. Things were very disorganized and, whereas the men officers were rapidly processing, there was chaos on the women’s side. Some voters in front took the initiative and sorted the lines into block codes and stood in front of the desk helping to get things moving faster. Most people had been there since 9 or 10 am and tempers ran high. I joined the volunteers as did many of my friends at other stations. Reorganizing the lines led to such a revolt, as people at the back pushed forward, that the returning officer confiscated the ballot papers for half an hour.
Eventually people sat on the floor of the polling station while they waited
With volunteers helping suddenly the presiding officers were processing about a voter a minute. But by this time people were fed up. They even protested against seniors cutting the line. Earlier in the day, the two people who had pushed into the queue were boo-ed out of the polling station and people patiently waited their turn. After six hours a few late-comer queue-pushers ruined the discipline of the entire line. So much for a new Pakistan.
Tempers flare in the polling station
While I was volunteering I can confirm the presiding officers were going as fast as they could. I really don’t know about earlier though there were rumours that around 3 pm they got a call saying they could speed up now. Who knows? I do know that everyone who queued at that small polling station was allowed to vote and there was no coercion. After 8 pm those still queuing outside were taken into the polling station so they could stamp their ballots. I know not a single voter was turned away.  I also know that the vote was for overwhelmingly for PTI. 
This guy arrived with massive security- armed guards, the works – and proceeded to distribute water to voters.
 Despite the long uncomfortable wait, being able to vote felt like a victory. Despite the heat and my physical exhaustion I was happy. So were all those who had come to vote. The young, the old, the infirm and the pregnant who had all endured hours of standing in almost unbearable heat just to vote. Which was why seeing the reports of rigging on reaching home was so heartbreaking. I didn’t queue for seven and a half hours to have my vote thrown away.
Messages and videos like this showing rigging are all over Facebookveracity unknown

There are pictures, videos and stories of rigging all over the social media. Papers being forcibly stamped, gunmen in polling stations forcing people to vote for their party, torn ballot papers, missing ballot boxes and pictures of ballot boxes ripped apart. At least one PML-N candidate in Lahore and some MQM workers in Karachi were caught red-handed.

One voter’s first hand experience of rigging – I have removed her name to protect her privacy
Late last night results started coming in. Nabeel Gabol of the MQM got 170,000 votes. I know the MQM traditionally polls over 100,000 votes in that constituency. However, having personally been at a polling station in another constituency that took 3 hours to process the votes of about 50 women, this seems both incredible and unfair.
I never expected Imran Khan to win. I know that for the most part people will vote for those who make their own lives better. For those who fix their roads and make sure they have electricity and who are visibly working for them. The PTI just doesn’t have that sort of grass roots network even now, though they have made huge gains in that respect.
Nawaz Sharif seems to have won
I expected a PML_N win. I knew people like my driver who has always voted PML-N would not change their mind. However I wanted my vote to stand as a protest against what is happening in this country. I feel robbed of that by the rigging. I was not sure I would vote for Imran Khan till a few days ago. I do not agree with everything he says. The MQM actually made some valid points and Mustafa Kamal was a great Mayor of Karachi. However yesterday’s antics by various parties really made me angry. I hold the ECP responsible for the majority of the problems in NA-250 but the pictures and testimony of rigging in various polling stations is unforgiveable. Call me naïve, but I expect more from a party before I vote for them.
As far as Lahore goes, I may have voted PML-N too if I had been suffering 16 hours of load shedding a day. The Sharif brothers have made Lahore into a model city and people will look to them after suffering for five years under the current government. Why they had to get involved in blatant rigging is beyond me. It does remind me, however, of the number of scandals the Sharifs have been involved in.
Happy voters from Sunday Magazine’s Facebook page
This is still a victory for Imran Khan. Although the official results are not in, he looks to have won a respectable number of seats though nothing like the tsunami predicted. He has gone from nowhere to credibility in a short time. He has inspired thousands of us to vote and reminded us that in terms of fairness Pakistan still has a long way to go. But be warned Captain-saab, we will be watching what you do with the mandate you have been given. We have been told to suspect your policies towards minorities and women, yet have given you the benefit of the doubt. Please don’t shake our faith in you.
Copyright 2015 Karachista. All rights reserved

Salima Feerastahttps://karachista.com
Salima Feerasta is chief editor of Karachista.com and one of Pakistan's top fashion and lifestyle journalists.

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