KARACHI, May 19: Compared to May 11 it was chalk and cheese. When polling started on Sunday morning the voter turnout at a majority of Defence-Clifton polling stations in NA-250 constituency was quite low.
At a few places it was dismal. It seemed as if the events that had unfolded in the last eight days, including the brutal killing of senior PTI leader Zahrah Shahid Husain on Saturday evening, had had its effect on voters. The fact that the exercise had been reduced to practically a one-horse race after several parties boycotted the re-poll for a National Assembly seat in 43 stations might also have a part to play. But with the passage of time, and as the sun started to beat down on Karachi with all its infernal might, things began to look up in most of the schools and colleges where voting was taking place. By midday the passion and presence of voters at the DA Model High School Phase IV looked like a re-run of May 11, albeit in slow motion.
The picturesque DHA Tooba High School at 9.15am had more security personnel (army, police) than men and women willing to elect their favorite candidate. Brothers Pervez Iqbal and Jamshed Iqbal stepped out of their booth with a younger member of their family giving a confused and satisfied look at the same time. “It took us from seven to 10 minutes to cast our vote. Everything went smoothly. The staff was good, the equipment was ready. If things were like this on May 11, we wouldn’t have gone through all the trouble,” said Mr Iqbal.
Umer, a businessman, expressed his concern over the number of people who had arrived at the DHA Tooba School. “I think among other factors it has to do with Saturday night’s killing. It instilled fear in people,” he said.
The situation at the ABSA School for Deaf and Dumb Children in Defence Phase II Extension along Korangi Road was no different. Still, the flow of voters at the station was steadier. A big number of security forces ensured things went without any major hiccup and imparted a touch of discipline to the school. Maaz Khan, a student of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, climbed down the stairs after doing the needful in a hurry. “Things are far better than the last time. I was in the queue for six hours on May 11,” he enthused. His take on the turnout was optimistic: “I don’t think it’s worrisome. People are coming in. I know many of my friends who are on their way.” Unlike him, businessman Ahsan Shabbir said he was going to urge his friends and relatives to shake a leg.
The DA Model High School Phase VII was no way near the sight it was a little more than a week ago (when residents’ provided men and women standing in a long queue with folding beds and bottles of drinking water). But here too electors were trickling in fairly regularly. And then the issue of block code raised its head. Some voters returned home when they were told that either they had already cast their vote as per their serial number or were supposed to do it somewhere else. The note pasted on one of the school walls read: ‘Polling will only be held for [the] following block code – 427040503, 504, 505, 506 and 601.’
Both sides of the road where the DA Model High School Phase VII is located were cordoned off by two minibuses on each side. So if anyone wanted to enter the premises they had to park their cars at least 100 yards away. Also, the security personnel were particularly strict on anyone who carried a mobile phone. Nobody was allowed to take their cell-phones into the school.
The huge DA Model High School Phase IV had an equally huge number of Pakistan army soldiers, police personnel and Rangers. There were even sniffer dogs trying to smell if someone was up to no good. In the morning people came in small groups of twos and threes, and there was no buzz or enthusiasm around the imposing building. Maha, a student of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, said she believed it might have to do with the previous night’s assassination. Her father, Minhaj, claimed only 10 per cent people had shown up. But once the clock struck 12, large lines outside the main gate to the institution made the security personnel to be more alert. The May 11 buzz had returned. Having said that, some found to their chagrin that it was not the station where they were registered as voters.
The DHA Degree College for Men Phase VII gave off an unperturbed vibe. Despite a voter’s (a woman in her late forties) little argument with a member of the polling staff, things were being handled coolly. The turnout was nothing to write home about in the morning but in the afternoon it gained momentum and became pretty impressive.
The DA High School Phase VIII had the most passionate lineup of people (that this writer ran into). A woman brought along three of her children, including an infant in her arms, to cast her vote. “My husband had to go somewhere else so I brought my kids. It was important to vote this time round,” she said.
A young man, Azam Jalal, looked quite cheerful coming out of the booth but was also a little disturbed that his friends and acquaintances had not come. “I’m going to tell people to come out.”
Perhaps the DHA College for Women saw the least number of voters. However, it has to be said that it came across as the most organised station. There was pin-drop silence in the spacious auditorium where ballot boxes were neatly placed.
The story at the DHA O and A Level School Khyaban-i-Mujahid was not encouraging either.
In the Clifton region, the flow of electors at the College of Accounting and Management Sciences (Bath Island) and Bay View Junior School was decent. An employee of the latter said it was not as noteworthy as the last time.
A reasonable number of voters visited Aminia School in Delhi Colony and Zaheen Academy in Punjab Colony, especially the former which is housed in a small building and could be reached by moving into streets and by pushing away the shamianas which were there to block the vehicular movement from different sides. A woman who had come to Zaheen Academy with her husband and a teenaged son opined: “If these guys (army, police) were as vigilant on May 11 as they are now, there would have been no problem.”