KARACHI: Even the most cynical of persons would have gone weak at the knees seeing septuagenarians and octogenarians queuing up outside polling stations in wheelchairs pushed by younger members of their families. Their unwavering spirit was exemplary.
Young women too had turned up in a considerable number, some holding their umbrellas aloft to shield themselves from the sweltering Karachi sun. The lines outside the Government Boys Primary School, Zamzama, the DHA Model High School, Phase VII, a private educational institute in Block 15 of Gulistan-i-Jauhar and Anjuman Islamia School, Liaquatabad, to name a few, were long enough to make one realise that people had ignored any fear that they had for voting day and stepped out of their houses to pick individuals and parties that they felt could ably lead them for the next five years. Sadly, the inordinately late arrival of the ballot boxes, and in some cases the shortage or absence of polling staff, put a dampener on the whole exercise.
Many had predicted that Karachi’s NA 250 would be one of the most keenly contested constituencies. One can’t comment on that, but the kind of passion and fervor that voters in the constituency exhibited on Saturday was unprecedented. Men and women as young as 18 and as old as 83 reached the Government Commerce College on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road just as the sun rose only to be discouraged by the fact that there weren’t any ballot boxes to put their votes in. An old man, held by the hand by his grandson, went three times inside the polling station and returned shaking his head disapprovingly.
A number of cars parked outside Zamzama Park indicated that the turnout in the area was unusually high. Women (young, not-so-old and old alike) patiently stood in the line alongside the park’s boundaries, some trying to get in the shade of the building to beat the heat. “There are no provisions for water, no shade, and some of us have been here since 7am,” complained Shazaf. “But we are here to cast our vote,” there was a steely resolve in her voice.
What had brought these relatively well-off people to the polling station was a firm belief in the fact that ‘change’ was afoot. “I’m voting for change,” said Sikandar, a 60-plus gentleman who was accompanied by his son. Despite the fact that the polling commenced at 9am, they did not budge from their spots in the long queue. To boot, there was cheerfulness in the air, as a woman sang songs to break the visual monotony of the polling routine.
Perhaps more people turned up at the DHA Model High School Phase VII. However, their fortitude was tested to the maximum by the fact that the ballot boxes arrived at the polling station not before midday (12pm). But it was nice to see Defence residents extending a helping hand to the voters waiting for hours to do the needful. They gave water bottles to them and some even provided them with folding beds to rest up outside their bungalows. A young man made full use of his megaphone as he kept the voters spirits high by shouting, “naujawanon thakna nahin” (young friends, don’t get tired). He also warned them to check if their ballot paper was properly stamped and signed by the Election Commission.
The situation at ABSA School in Phase II Extension was appalling. Again, the unending rows of people outside the school constituted men and women from all (voting) age groups. The scorching sun took its toll on one elderly person who collapsed in the heat but thankfully recovered soon. Some complained about inadequate voting equipment. One gentleman grumbled there were no requisite stamps to put on the ballot paper. Another hinted that the presiding officer had been missing. And yet, the polling went on.
It was heartening to see women belonging to the less affluent segment of society thronging Jamshed School in Hijrat Colony to have their say. Despite the uncomfortable situation of having just one booth each for men and women causing delays in the voting process they did not flinch back and cast their votes.
A significant turnout was witnessed in NA-256 but while at one polling station (a private institute) voting began not too late, at another the issue of ballot boxes irritated the voters no end. The station was so crowded and incommodious that anyone who was claustrophobic could not have stepped inside for a minute. There were management issues and yet for some odd reason not many were grousing about it. The different thing here was that the women looked as eager and jubilant as men to pick a candidate of their choosing. In a manner of speaking, they were a tad wiser than their counterparts from other constituencies because they’d brought bottles of water and some snacks to quench their thirst and satiate their appetite.
Relatively less mismanagement was seen in Liaquatabad No 10’s Anjuman Islamia School (NA 246). Of course, it could be attributed to the fact that there wasn’t much competition in the constituency. Compared to a couple of posh localities, the mode of transportation in this part of the city was less slick. People either hoofed it all the way to the polling station or came by vans that had no hoods.
The Purana Golimar area, inexplicably, was eerily quiet. Apparently polling was going on rather smoothly in the constituency, but there wasn’t much election hullabaloo.
Probably there was that escaped this writer’s eyes, because spending election day on the streets made one thing clear as day: there’s more to it than meets the eye.