KARACHI, Dec 25: Despite the boycott by one contesting group, Shehr-i-Quaid, festive atmosphere was witnessed during the annual Arts Council Karachi elections on Tuesday.

Members and supporters of the Ahmed Shah-Ejaz Farooqi group were seen moving on the council premises with a spring in their step, requesting and escorting voters to cast their votes. Ballots could be had at a counter to the left of the main entrance to the council, after which voters would go towards the lawn where polling booths were set up under a tent. There were two entryways for the voters: one for the lifetime members and the other for regular members.

Till last week two groups were expected to contest the elections — the Ahmed Shah-Ejaz Farooqi and Shehr-i-Quaid. The former had been sweeping the elections for the past five years. Aggressive canvassing was witnessed from both camps as text messages imploring council members to vote for them kept the cellphones buzzing and ringing all weeklong. Many contenders personally rang up the potential voters to seek their votes.

Then somewhat inexplicably a couple of days before the elections, the Shehr-i-Quaid panel withdrew itself from the contest complaining of a biased attitude of some figures holding important posts in the city. They also complained of the unavailability of the complete voters’ list. It left only some independent candidates and the Ahmad Shah panel in the race.

Talking to Dawn, vice-president candidate for the Shehr-i-Quaid panel Azfar Rizvi said: “We have boycotted the elections under protest. Lists of the members were not given to us in a proper manner. Then members who pass away are replaced with other individuals without any notification. Also, we think the election commission was not fair to us as was the Karachi commissioner since they didn’t provide us with the material we had requested them to.”

Some suggest the pulling out of the group was inevitable because even if they had taken part in the vote casting process, they would have lost. The Ahmad Shah-Ejaz Farooqi panel has been winning the elections for the past five years with big margins and this year too it was expected that the results would be the same.

A member of the council and noted poet Sabir Zafar said: “It is a democratic exercise which is useful for the promotion of art and culture in the city. The Ahmad Shah-Ejaz Farooqi group has worked well to keep the council up and running and has been organising events on a regular basis. Those who have pulled out under protest would not have won anyhow because they have not done anything for art and culture. If they were miffed with the council, they should have or could have arranged programmes and events outside it. They did not do that.”

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