KARACHI, May 19: Fear kept most voters away from the electoral process on Sunday when re-polling was held on 43 polling stations of NA-250 constituency amid a boycott by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Majlis-i-Wahdat-i-Muslimeen coupled with the late-night killing of a senior Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader in the Defence Housing Authority.
Dozens of personnel of law-enforcement agencies, present there to ensure a peaceful day during the re-polling, as well as the election staff outnumbered the voters in most cases.
The voter turnout in the areas perceived to be dominated by the MQM was very low given the fact that their favourite party had opted out in protest against the re-polling only on a part of the constituency – as ordered by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The polling had started around 8am in all the polling stations. A visit to Saifya Secondary Boys Private School on Outram Road near the Arambagh police station showed that just 15 of the 919 men and 15 of the 661 women registered voters had cast their ballots by 12noon.
Similarly, just 21 of the 1,001 male and 11 of the 915 female voters had cast their votes by 12.15pm. The number of male voters was just 28 and female votes were 14 that were seen cast at the Government Girls Secondary School in P&T Colony.
Similar dismal figures were witnessed in the polling stations at the Allama Shibli Nomani College of Accounting Management Science, Kamil Gali.
At Ismail Allahwala Secondary School in Delhi Colony, some 50 of the 1,065 male voters had cast their votes by 3.30pm, while the number of female voters was just 28 of 835. Not a single vote had been polled in one of the two female booths there.
On the same premises, in Najam Delhi Primary School, just five of the 373 women and 20 of the 482 men voters had cast their votes.
“Most of us vote for the MQM, so when our party is out of the race then there is no point in making queues outside polling stations and ruining our weekend,” Mohammad Kashif, 34, a resident of Delhi Colony, said.The congested Railway Colony had mixed population, where every contesting party had the following. However, the voters’ turnout remained low there as well. A visit to the Government Boys Secondary School showed that just 13 of the 735 female voters and 56 of the 2,001 male voters had cast their votes five hours after the polling started.
Voters’ turnout was low as well by the national standards in other areas where the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, ANP and PPP had popular support, yet it was visibly healthier as far as male turnout was concerned.
At four polling stations in Hijrat Colony, some 1,319 of 6,033 male voters had cast their votes by about 2.15pm. However, just 255 of 2,926 female voters had polled their votes.
At the same time, at Najeeb Shaheed School in Tekri Colony near Bath Island 286 of 822 male voters and 127 of 507 female voters turned up.
The turnout at the two polling stations of Qamarul Islam School in Punjab Colony was better as far as male voters’ turnout was concerned as 592 of the 2,627 polled their votes. Just 292 of 1,974 female voters had cast their votes when two hours were remaining to the end of polling time.
The reasons behind the low turnout in the areas where the MQM has lesser support was said to be security fears and traditional lethargy associated with by-elections.
“People are visibly feeling insecure because of the murder of PTI leader Zahrah Shahid Husain last night, though we have taken excellent security measures,” said a police official outside Qamarul Islam School.
Paramilitary Rangers and police had been deputed in and outside the polling stations. At least one Rangers man was deputed inside every polling booth.
All the entry and exit points leading to the polling stations were barricaded. Shops and markets in the proximity of every polling station were closed. Policewomen and Rangers women were also deputed there.
At various polling stations, the number of polling staff and security personnel visibly outnumbered the voters.
Polling started on time at most stations as election material — ballots, stamps, ink, etc — was supplied in time.
Polling staff at most polling stations had been summoned on the eve of polling day and had not been allowed to go outside. They included women, many of whom had left their minor children at home and were visibly worried about them.
They said it was for the first time since the 1988 elections that they had been confined to the polling stations. Similar complaints were heard from male staff, who said they had not been provided proper space to spend the night. Some of them showed their arms and faces stung by mosquitoes.
Women vote was highly poor. So much so that it was zero at two polling booths – one each at the Ismail School and Aaisha Bawani School.
Some 140 polling staff, including 15 women, had been brought from Balochistan’s districts bordering Karachi to ensure impartiality particularly at highly sensitive polling stations.
The PTI’s polling agents were present at most polling stations, but at the Delhi school just PML-N polling agents were seen.
Polling agents of the Sunni Tehreek and the ANP were also seen at a couple of polling stations.
In Rahat Islamia Government Girls School of Qayyumabad’s A sector, only four of 1,160 female voters had used their right to vote when only two hours of polling were left.
Around the same time 263 of the 2,084 registered male votes had been cast in the polling station. Though security measures were in place and a number of Rangers and army soldiers with policemen were deputed inside the polling stations, people had opted to stay away from the process where a large number of people had come out to cast votes on May 11.
“There is no security issue particularly in this area but we believe last night incident [killing of the PTI leader] and boycott by parties led to this lacklustre situation,” said Adil Khan at the PML-N camp, set up a few yards from the polling station. “We have been here for more than six hours and have hardly received 100 people to know the details of their votes. Fear has killed the elections’ charm.”
For Muhammad Nasim of the PTI sitting at the party’s camp just neighbouring the rival PML-N’s, his activists had been under serious threat after the previous night’s incident but they shunned fear and cast their votes.
“But you see you can’t force voters and ensure them a peaceful process ahead when party workers themselves are under threat. The city was already not good for any kind of political activism and the last night’s incident only made the situation worse,” he said.
The scenes were not different in Hazara Colony’s Railway Colony Secondary School along Kala Pul where only 475 of the 2,183 total votets registered at the polling station dared cast their votes.