290-NA-250-polling-station
NA - 250. Female voters wait patiently for voting to begin. -Photo by Saman Ghani Khan

It’s 5:30 pm . I was supposed to be at work by now with my colleagues, anticipating the result to what was being termed as a “historic” election. Instead I have now returned home after standing for 10 hours in line without being able to vote. It wasn’t as if the line up was too long (which it was, but I was number four in line), it was just that polling hadn’t started in our station yet.

At 7:30 am my family enthusiastically grabbed water bottles and their ID cards and took off to vote. When we got there we were told the staff wasn’t there yet. The voters of NA-250 (Phase IV) passed smirks and smiles shaking their head at the lack of punctuality of the ECP officials. Little did we know the situation would remain the same 10 hours later – but by then, no one was passing around smiles. It was a weird mixture of rage and resilience as the day went by.

We stood firm as news came from family in Lahore and other areas of Karachi that they managed to get inside and vote. We believed our turn would come soon. As I type this, there are hundreds of others still believing that and standing in line to get inside a polling station that has no staff to conduct polls.

Contradictory statements kept coming in all day from the staff inside. First they said there were no ballot boxes present. The crowd was astonished – they thought this would be the biggest setback – no one had any idea at that time that from a required staff of 65 ECP officials, only 12 were present. That number eventually diminished to nine when some of them managed to sneak out from the gate and disappeared, without looking back.

The boxes eventually arrived at 12:30 pm. They were brought in by PTI workers who had a long journey ahead of them. Apparently, the ballot boxes were not being allowed to be taken away from the city courts, and it was these workers who managed to get them through and then went around delivering them in all polling stations of NA-250. Lidless boxes, stamps and ink was passed around from hand to hand in hopes this would lead us to casting our vote soon. It didn’t happen.

The crowd of voters increased hour by hour – hope rose each time someone went in through the gate – perhaps this would be the person who would be responsible for giving us the good news? Each of them came out with sheepish looks of embarrassment and walked away. The policemen stood outside all day long in the heat with us, drenched in their thick uniforms, shrugging at us voters – they were as helpless as we were.

As the heat grew and our faces burned, the elderly started returning to their cars no longer being able to cope. They promised the younger voters that they would return once polling started. The younger lot grew agitated but knew better than to leap on each other – for it seemed as if a provocation was all that was needed to call this a failure.

But now as the evening sets in and results roll across televisions, I wonder if there’s any point returning to my polling station. It didn’t happen within the past 10 hours, will it happen now? Family and friends keep urging us to return and not to give up, but when do you call quits? I went there to cast my vote, not sit at the mercy of forces who won’t allow me my fundamental right. I thought this would be the time of change, of new energy and new hopes.

It’s almost 6:00 pm now, my family member still in line tells me there is still no sign of voting starting yet. The thought of returning to my polling station causes me more dread and disappointment than fatigue – but if polling does open, I might as well return – I survived through the past five years, I’m sure I can fight for another five hours.

 


The writer is the Deputy Editor at Dawn.com

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