The stories of three first-time voters

Published: May 13, 2013
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The delay was unbearable and a few people left, but the majority stayed behind to claim their right - their right to vote! PHOTO: WASIM IMRAN

My first voting experience

By Aaminah Qadir

A junior at Yale University studying Global Affairs and History of Art.

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I arrived home from college, excitedly, two days before the general elections to cast my first ever vote. The 2013 elections were too precious to miss. Pakistan was begging for a change.

I had previously heard that it is only the elite that will vote for drastic change, that only a small minority will support a new face, but what I heard was wrong. My entire family and I reached the polling office in Korangi at 8:20am.

I was baffled to see a line of over a 100 women stretching across the street, waiting patiently in the scorching sunlight to vote at opening time. I did not expect that many people in Korangi, especially women, would come out to vote. I soon discovered that most of the women present were casting their vote for Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) simply because they were fed up with the status quo. Those standing were fed up with the mass killings in Karachi, with few rights and with no accountability.

10:30am:

We were only a few steps forward. There was mass confusion. Women returned from inside saying,

 “They’re not letting you in if you do not have your block number.”

What block number? Why weren’t we told to get this number before? Because my family, like most, observed the rules and left our cell phones behind, we were in a fix.

Luckily, one of us went back to the car and retrieved the required details. The girl in front of us had been waiting in line for three hours, only to reach the gate to enter to find out that her polling agent had not arrived and so she would sit inside till the agent decided to show up.

Was it a mere coincidence that the polling agents at NA-250 were missing till noon?

In the mean time, as I stood in line on the street I took it upon myself to chat and argue with the many police officers on duty. They stood under the trees for shade in a little pack, complaining to me that they have 12 hour duty shifts so they cannot all be in the sun, on the street, preventing cars from coming into the lane and causing jams.

Finally, one told the rest to stop arguing with me as I was correct in saying that it takes one motorcycle, or one car with a bomb to destroy the hoards of people waiting to vote.

Of course, it did not occur to them to rotate duty in the sun. Cars were driving up the street and finally when they came close enough, the police officers extended their laathis (sticks), but still did not budge to tell them to return.

The dear superintendent of police (SP) then showed up for a fleeting moment and on came the police officers’ caps and straight postures. In a second, he too departed, despite my telling him there was havoc inside the polling station.

We soon entered the school, only to find hundreds of people running around, everywhere.

The polling agent in my room was slow and inefficient. She could not read properly and there was a long, long line outside the door with the polling booth empty for ten minutes at a time. We organised the voters into lines in opposite directions to reduce the traffic jam and because people were fainting due to the heat.

My sister reported that she cast both her provincial and national votes into one ballot box as there were no separate boxes. My cousins reported waiting at the DHA model school till 3:00pm for ballot boxes. My friends reported that there were no Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) stamps and that one polling station at the DHA Boys School had already been shut. Those working at my house, descending from strongholds, said that a symbol had already been marked on their ballot paper when they entered to vote.

Who should they have called? Who should they have argued with?

When I finally did cast my vote and left, I did not feel the elation I expected after my first ever vote. I felt moved, but slightly nauseous, as though I was going to faint after these four gruelling hours, to see my grand aunts with their walkers entering to vote when I left. They were two of the many elderly – some of who were on wheelchairs – who fought to vote!

Mostly, I felt proud to see my nation refusing to turn back home because they wanted to be heard. Mothers stood with their crying babies in the sun in front of me for hours. The masses stood resilient for eight hours at a stretch to ensure a better Pakistan, not only for them but for you. I felt sad to hear that some just did not bother to vote, but more, I felt immense pride that so many ventured through to the stations despite bomb threats and the threats from political parties.

When we reached home, we soon discovered our ballots weren’t stamped. My mother and I called the ECP frantically and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) hotline for rigging (since that is the only party that had one) to report all that we saw (or all that we didn’t see).

At the end of this disheartening process, I can come out saying that I feel more passionate and have hope for a nation that I once thought was just lost.

Perhaps this time round the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) will be more fruitful because of the strong opposition checking them. Perhaps, in 2018, the many reported waderas who forced their people into voting for them with threats of destruction, will no longer be able to do so.

What I look most forward to is that Pakistan will no longer tolerate corruption and leaders that do not care. I am proud that we gave those with promise a chance. We will fight back. We will avenge the dead. We are aware. We want justice.

Dil Dil Pakistan!

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The first time I voted

By Salman Haider

An HR professional at a multinational organization and a student of Organizational Psychology.

For the first time in my 30 years of existence, I decided to use my right to vote and play my part in bringing about a change to our country. It was an interesting experience for sure.

The ordeal started on May 10, 2013. Very excited to cast my vote, I confirmed my polling station details by sending an SMS with my CNIC number to 8300 and got the reply about my polling station as “DHA Middle School Phase VIII Khayaban-e-Shujaat”.

I drove around Khayaban-e-Shujaat to find the mentioned school but failed. I then stopped the Rangers personnel patrolling the area and with their help was able to locate my polling station which was actually “DA High School Phase VIII Khayaban-e-Shujaat” instead of the “Middle” School as mentioned in the text from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Anyway, Election Day finally arrived! Very excited, my family and I woke up early in order to avoid the potential long queue at the polling station and return early after casting our vote. We reached the polling station at precisely 7:30am.

Luckily, we were among the first few people there so we formed the queue and waited for the polling to start. The polling was officially to start at 8:00am. However, at 8:30am we were informed that the ECP staff was inside but the ballot boxes were yet to arrive!

At 10:00am the ballot boxes arrived. Now imagine us standing in the scorching sun for the last two and half hours; we were exhausted. The agony didn’t stop here. One representative of the ECP came out and told us that the presiding officer of one of the blocks of our polling station died last night and due to which there was no one to collect the voting booklet for that block from the Court. They claimed that they had sent someone to collect the booklet from the Court and the polling could only be started in one of the blocks.

Unfortunately, our vote was in that affected block but we decided to wait as the queue was very long to leave and come back. While we were patiently waiting for our ballot list to arrive at around 12pm, at least 10 to 15 gangsters of a renowned political party of Karachi barged in to our polling station and went straight to the affected polling stations (note that the ballot paper and boxes were there, only the list of voters was missing).

Luckily the voters at our polling station immediately contacted the law enforcement agency and they arrived swiftly (to our surprise) and handled the situation. They hurled these gangsters out of the polling station – otherwise one can easily imagine what would have happened.

Meanwhile, it was very encouraging to see young, educated people helping each other out by offering water to everyone in the polling station while waiting for the matter to be resolved. What was even more surprising to see was that irrespective of the political inclination, some gave out juice while others brought in snacks.

At around 3:00pm we were informed that the person sent to receive the list was missing and couldn’t be contacted via the telephone.

The Army along with Rangers officials visited our polling station to clarify the issue and assured us that we would be given extra time to cast our vote and everyone in the queue would be allowed to vote.

By 3:30pm, we were burnt out. We could not take it any more so we returned, had lunch and comforted the children.

At 6:00pm sharp we were at the polling station again. This time at the end of the queue.

At 10:30pm, the last member of our family cast his vote. We were exhausted.

To our shock when we turned on the televisions for the news, the political party whose gangsters were hurled out of the polling station was the first party to allege rigging at our polling station demanded a re-election in our constituency.

After seeing this, we just turned the news off and went straight to bed hoping to wake up in a Naya Pakistan!

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My first ever vote

By Adeel A Shamim

A recent graduate from the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi.

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I reached my polling station in phase V of NA-250 at 7:30am and I was utterly amazed to see so many people already lined up. Filled with enthusiasm, we all talked about how this will be a new chapter in Pakistan’s history. It was 8:00am now and everyone was eager to go in and vote, fulfilling their duty to the country. A lot of people had actually made plans after voting and were going to celebrate this new beginning.

We waited until it was 8:20am. People inquired as to the reason behind this delay. We were initially told that some of the polling agents were still not in the polling station, so they asked us to wait and, to my surprise, the people were very understanding!

It wasn’t until 9:30am that we became agitated and inquired once again as to why they can’t just start the polling. This time we were given a different excuse; we were told that the ballot boxes had not reached yet! I found this to be quite preposterous considering the fact that Karachi is the biggest city in the country compared to cities like Larkana where all the ballot boxes had been delivered one day prior.

Anyhow, yet again we were asked to wait. Although a little disgruntled, the public once again showed how mature they were and waited quietly. Around 11:00am, the heat became unbearable as we stood under the scorching sun.

The handicapped, the elderly, children and “burger” people that were still standing in line despite the sun beating down on them; this was something I had never seen before and this was the Naya Pakistan that everyone was talking about! But we are also human, and so, some of the elderly and people with little kids eventually decided to go home disappointed.

Meanwhile, rangers/army came and left, but the boxes unfortunately were still not delivered. Around 12:30pm the ballot boxes finally arrived and were greeted with loud cheers by the public, who very eager to vote. We did not expect any further problems.

Around 30 minutes into the delayed polling, I heard people saying that they had stamped the ballot paper with their thumbs, since the ECP stamp wasn’t available! This basically meant that their votes would be rendered invalid as they had not used the ECP stamp to vote. Unfortunately, when the word got around, a lot of the people who voted with their thumb had already left. We yet again found ourselves waiting for the stamp to arrive and now the public was getting very annoyed by the turn of events.

Around 2:00pm the stamp “somehow” found its way into the polling station. Slowly and gradually people started going in. We started talking to each other regarding proper methods of voting such as using a stamp and folding the ballot paper properly. The last thing we wanted was more wasted votes.

We also started cheering on the extraordinary people that came to vote. I even remember a mentally challenged person among the voters. It was an amazing feeling and I couldn’t wait to cast my vote!

Things were moving slowly. When we noticed that no one was going in any more, we inquired the reason again. Lo and behold, the polling staff was having lunch! But this Naya Pakistan really showed its colour; instead of fighting; we started distributing water, drinks and chickpeas to the public.

Once again around 4pm the polling started. This is when we heard about the rigging that went on in NA-250 and people speculated that there will be re-elections in a week. Despite knowing this, everyone stayed back. We were all determined to vote. Now this was a matter of doing what we stood for since 7:30am!

Around 5pm, the polling staff thought that the public would probably get frustrated and leave, but to their surprise the ladies started chanting slogans regarding their rights to vote. The men joined too, and so polling continued after 5pm.

Reports of constant rigging and problems in the polling stations of Phase VII and VIII had started making rounds here. This only solidified our intent to vote. No one was going anywhere without voting, period!

As my turn approached, I was filled with excitement and started reviewing the correct steps to vote. Just like that, I was done and felt good about myself. My turn had come approximately eleven hours of my reaching the polling station.

What should and could have been done in 10-15 minutes took 11 hours and displayed the pathetic current situation of the ECP.

When I walked out, there were about 400 people still waiting to cast their votes. Each and every one of them was still as determined as when they had walked in.

Hats off to all the people that stayed and voted. You have demonstrated that you indeed do deserve a Naya Pakistan!

Blogs Desk

Blogs Desk

The Express Tribune Blogs desk.

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