May 11, 2013 changed Pakistan for the better, will May 11, 2014 do the same?

Published: May 10, 2014
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A large crowd gathers at a PML-N rally. PHOTO:AFP

Thousands gather for the PTI's Lahore rally. PHOTO : AFP A large crowd gathers at a PML-N rally. PHOTO:AFP

On the eve of  May 10 and 11, 2013 I saw a very different Lahore. Lahore was completely crowded with families and teenagers supporting their respective political parties, majorly PTI and PML-N.

A poster in central Lahore asking citizens of Pakistan to vote. ‘Say yes to vote’ Photo: AFP

From Liberty roundabout to Hussain Chowk and from Hussain Chowk to either side of Firdous and Mini Market roundabout, roads were jam packed with cars and motorbikes. It seemed like nothing else was more important to anyone that day, they came out to celebrate and their democratic festivity showed! To represent the spirit of democracy, in the air, rival party supporters provided space for people to chant slogans in their respective party’s favour and to revel in their right to vote.

Traffic was moving slowly but no one halted its movement, both party’s supporters were vigilant to make sure that no inconvenience was caused to the families and females participating in those rallies. PML-N and PTI’s supporters had their cars rally side by side, greeting each other, curious about the elections’ outcome, providing each other with beverages and trying to outdo each other’s vocal chords in chanting their party’s slogans but making sure not to overlap the other.

And in between all good cheer, I thought to myself, this is the spirit of democracy; raising your voice as much as you want but providing a listening ear to the other point of view as well. I believed we had finally evolved, Pakistan had arrived in the high and mighty sphere of democracy.

Supporters of Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan flash victory signs as they take part in an election campaign rally in Lahore. Photo: AFP

PPP supporters at an election rally in Lahore. Photo:AFP

My impression was that, in a matter of few minutes, all of this would change, since nothing good can come out of two opposing parties conducting rallies together, that too, in Pakistan. But I was wrong because the rally remained peaceful and went on for a good four- five hours with more people joining in with the flags of their respective party in hand. Not a single soul tried to disrupt or cause harm to their opposing party’s supporters.

The most heart-warming moment was watching kids, aged between five to 12 years, with their faces brightly painted in PTI and PML-N colours and flags, while they chanted the slogans, enjoying the night out, waving their party’s flags and campaigning for the grown-ups to vote for PML-N or PTI. And the girls wore their political party’s flag as bandanas, making a statement of their involvement in the political process. This was the kind of political activity previously missing from Pakistan’s political scene.

In the last few years I’ve never seen Lahore this alive; it felt as if Lahore’s soul has been resurrected.

On the eve of May 11, the Lahoris had to make a big decision. They had to decide what to have for breakfast before voting or after casting their vote. Lahore is known for its delicious food, and so plans were made, relatives and friends were invited (to join in on the day’s festivities), and I too, had a lunch planned out with friends after casting the vote.

When Lahoris plan their breakfasts and lunches, that day is far from ordinary and on that day, people knew the importance of that day and their vote as well. They wanted to celebrate it, their exuberance was evident. This was the change that political activists, journalists, judiciary and civil society sacrificed and dedicated their lives to.

Nawaz Sharif celebrates victory in Pakistan election. Photo: AFP

Pakistani voters pose with their national identity cards as they queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Punjab. Photo: AFP

I woke up early, around seven in the morning. I couldn’t sleep because of the level of excitement I had witnessed the night before. On my way to the polling station, I saw that a lady had park her car about 400 metres away from the polling booth because the parking slots allotted were occupied by the cars that came before her and so she had to walk cast her vote. Many people would have taken it as a sign to walk away but she walked those 400 meters and casted her vote. I saw different polling stations where the long queue was populated by the aged, young, poor and rich.

Many flew in from abroad to make their vote count. Photo: AFP

It seemed that people had realised what their vote meant for their country and that to me, was the real change.

Voting spread far and wide to the outer districts of Punjab. Photo: AFP

On this day, May 11, 2014, I hope that spirit has still lingered on. It is imperative that people vouch for democracy and democrats adhere to their vows. People voted a year back to affirm their trust in the political process, it is now the responsibility of political leaders to do their part.

Waqas Habib Rana

Waqas Habib Rana

A freelance writer and Editor in Chief at Paknewsbeat.com , who has been associated with video production, theater, event management and business. He tweets @waqas464 (twitter.com/waqas464)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.