By Fareeha Qayoom
ay 11th was an historic day in more ways than one. Voting had become easy this time around with Computerized NADRA ID cards. All you had to do was text to 8300 and you could locate your polling booth. (We didn’t vote last time around -2008 Elections- because there was a rumor doing the rounds that you still had to register to vote in spite of your NADRA ID cards and we couldn’t be bothered to find out the exact procedure as it sounded too complicated and difficult). However, my eldest sister had actually registered her vote as well…
She was assigned voting rights under NA 122 which was strange as her permanent address is DHA too. It should have been NA 125… the other two were assigned polling booth in Z sector of DHA including my mom (she didn’t vote as she’s a senior citizen and it would have been too hectic and tiring for her) – Defense Public School. I, on the other hand, was assigned Mount Pleasant School on Rifle Range Road, which is actually outside of DHA, though it still qualifies as a two mile radius from my home. (It took us a bit to even locate the location of my polling booth as the election commission referred to it as Khora Pind…we were not familiar with this address). Till about 3:30 PM on May 11th, I was still maintaining that I will not vote since I didn’t know where to go. However, we located the address on Google maps, so…
Early morning about 9: 00 AM, three of my siblings had left to vote. They came back around noon. Two had successfully voted, however, one had returned empty handed. She had been standing in the line for about two and half hours to finally find out that she needed block code and silsila code to process for her vote. Unfortunately, Adnan had forgotten his phone at home and couldn’t readily recall her codes, though, luckily, he was helped by PML (N) people to locate one of his codes and he remembered the other one himself. He got through in fifteen minutes flat – lucky chap, while my sister after a long wait had nothing to show for it.
Around 1:00 PM, she was successfully nagged into going again to vote by our resident two kids, my eight year old nephew and my nine year old niece – they kept singing ‘Angootah chalay Ga’, she had also noted down her block and silsila codes by than. All three left and returned successfully a couple of hours later. Now, it was my turn. My brother quickly located the address on the Google maps, he also told me I should at least try it once in my lifetime and it might as well be now. Furthermore, I could use the experience to write a post for my blog so why the heck not? I demanded that Shela (my sister) had to go with me, only than I would vote. My niece and my sister accompanied me. I was sure who I wanted to vote for as far as National Assembly was concerned (NA 125). But I had no clue who I wanted to vote for as far as provincial assembly was concerned, since I wasn’t familiar with any of the candidates.
We got there at 4:00 PM exactly. There was a long line of women. I should’ve run there and then but I stayed unfortunately, the more time I spent in the line, the more invested I became to vote, even though I still didn’t know who to vote for as far as the provincial candidate was concerned. A few young women even asked me who was getting my vote. I told them, I was still thinking about it. The weather had become pleasant around this time. Luckily it was cloudy and windy. Around 5:45 PM my brother gave me a call to get an update on my status. He also wanted to let me know that Election Commission had extended the time to 6:00 PM.
Shela and Sarah (my niece) went observing all over the place. Sarah would run to me with frequent news updates while the line moved at snail pace. I understood both candidates visited this particular location but I missed the show. Apparently, it generated a lot of excitement. Shela organized women over 50 to move ahead in the line and vote first – you know rights of senior citizens blah, blah, blah. She was pretty successful with her efforts.
Around 6:00 PM, I finally arrived inside the corridor leading up to the polling booth. There were more than hundreds of women inside! Things were even more chaotic here. Frequently, there would be someone exhorting women to form two lines (at this point, there were two lines). Finally, around 7:30 pm, I finally made it inside the polling booth. (I left my bag with the cell phone with my sister). There was even more chaos here. There were a few young observers sitting here from PTI or maybe PML (N) one was sitting near the voting boxes, she greeted and guided me to the correct spot and the other one was eyeballing the women who were stamping their votes before putting them in the appropriate boxes. She gave me a surprised look when I stamped in my votes. (Yes, my voting strategy was quite unexpected, no wonder, she was surprised! ;D)
Anyway, because I am a civilized person, it took me more time (about half an hour inside) to vote because there was too little staff and they were manually inking, identifying, stamping and issuing balloting papers…I let a lot of women push me around before my turn finally came. My niece (she came in with me) wanted to put my votes in so I let her. There was a green box for National Assembly and white box for provincial assembly vote. I came out at about 8:00 PM or thereabouts, it was totally dark and I was one of the last ones to finish, funnily enough, I hadn’t been the last one in the lines, there had been at least 20-30 women behind me…my brother, in the meantime, had given us a call to let us know to take a detour into DHA as PTI and PML (N) party workers/supporters were creating a situation on the main boulevard apparently through Television reports. Shela got waylaid by PTI supporter who was canvassing even at this point. I told Shela to wind up her conversation; it was time to make a move.
By the way, I actually didn’t see any weird happenings– in fact, everything was very civilized and low key. However, I did see the staff being overwhelmed by loads of voters and having to do everything manually – for example, I helped the woman who was supposed to ink me by identifying my photo in her list. Otherwise, she would have gone over the whole book looking for me. I was quickly processed by provincial Assembly lady but it took a long time for the other lady to process me. There were too many women and there was no longer a queue – people were piling up on top of each other. She made me recite my ID number so she could write it down quickly in counter foil to move things along, even then, I think they spent about ten minutes on each person at least at the three processing points before you could actually stamp in your votes and put them in. There were simply too many voters. We left the place at 8:00 PM. The men finished early though. Maybe they were assigned more staff…
Anyway, I am happy with the results. Pakistan’s citizens sensibly voted in ‘experience’ at the helm and at the same time gave a sporting chance to ‘change,’ to go through the necessary learning curve at someone else’s expense first. (I did the same thing myself! No wonder the PTI observer had given me a surprised look!) I think Mr. Khan is actually not ready to step into the Prime Minister’s shoes yet; he hasn’t acquired the necessary maturity, not to mention, experience, flexibility and a team to do an effective job yet – in retrospect, given his recent behavior and lack of sportsman spirit, giving him the country to run would have been a bad move.
The people have spoken. Respecting their word and moving on with it is more important at this point than creating a lot of strife and unpleasantness which Mr. Khan managed to do from his sickbed in spite of things going well at the elections for him. My advice to the politicians, listen to your citizens and do a good job this time – together as a team. Your people are quite capable of voting you off like they did with PPP if you don’t deliver. (By the time I post this, Mr. Sharif has already met with Mr. Khan and tried to put the unpleasantness behind him. I guess he wants to play nice and be sensible this time. This is another good move on his part.)
And, yes, my boss thinks bringing an expensive bullet train to this country is hardly sensible. It’s better to concentrate on improving the current railway system. Even though, Mr. Sharif is only 63, he needs to act more mature! 😀 After all, he’s the Prime Minister in waiting now.