KARACHI, Aug 22: The soldiers of military and paramilitary Rangers in addition to local police outnumbered voters at most of 194 polling stations set up across thickly-populated Korangi Town during by-election for NA-254 held on Thursday.
The voters’ turnout was said to be less than 10 per cent on aggregate in the afternoon with women’s participation undeniably smaller than male voters despite it being a predominantly Urdu-speaking area.
The Election Commission of Pakistan had ordered by-election in the area as polling had been cancelled for NA-254 in the wake of death of an Awami National Party candidate, Shaukat Zaman Khattak, in an attack before the May 11 general elections.
Apart from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s M.A. Rashid, around a dozen more candidates, including independent and those belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), were in the fray for the seat.
MQM’s polling agents and voters’ facilitation pavilions were seen ubiquitously outside all polling stations and others conspicuously missing. Particularly, the PTI, which had lately accused a ‘political party’ of harassing its candidate and polling staff in the constituency, had not posted any polling agent at many polling stations. Yet their number was far more than the polling staff arranged by their counterparts, the PPP and the PML-N candidates.
The constituency has been a stronghold of the MQM since the 1988 general elections when the MQM’s candidates had secured a whopping 170,000 votes.
The PTI’s performance in the May 11 elections was a surprise for many as the party secured more than 500,000 votes across the city and even in the strongholds of the MQM and the PPP.
But a visit to the constituency showed the party had not set up even a single election camp in the area and the passion shown by its supporters during general elections appeared to have run out of steam.
“This area is Altaf Bhai’s fort and will remain so irrespective of whosoever stands up to him,” said Nuzhat Ara, a middle-aged woman while coming out of a polling station set up in Allama Iqbal School in Nasir Colony.
The spacious school housed three polling stations (64, 65 and 66); however, the turnout was not as convincing as her conviction when it was visited in the afternoon. Just 136 out of 1,457 male votes and 43 out of 993 female votes had been cast till then.
Some 63 out of 946 male and 37 out of 693 female votes had been cast at polling station No.66. At polling station No.65, 148 men and 67 women had voted.
In polling station No.188 set up in Hajirabad’s government boys’ secondary school, the turnout was extremely dismal as just 10 out of 1,005 women and 53 out of 1,372 men had voted. PTI had not posted any polling agent at the polling station.
At polling station No.193 in Shahnaz School of Bhitai Colony, just five out of 791 female voters and 29 out of 1,248 male voters had cast their votes. Polling booth No.1 for female voters had received no voter yet to claim a ballot.The voters’ turnout was very low at the Karachi Public School and Jinnah Foundation School housing polling stations No.191 and 192 in the same vicinity.
A small one-storey building of Khan Public School housed polling stations No.15 and 16 in impoverished Bilal Colony. Some 68 out of 1,331 male voters and just 16 out of 714 female voters had cast votes at polling station No.15, while 34 out of 432 male and five out of 259 female voters had cast their ballots. One of the two female booths there was still waiting to open its account.
At polling station No.37 set up in Technical Training Centre for Women in sector 34/1, Marwari Colony, the situation was relatively better with 152 out of 1,103 men and 81 out of 757 women having cast their votes.
At polling stations No.43 and 44 housed in KMC Ibrahim Ali Bhai School on Double Road in Korangi No.2, a total of 367 out of 1,905 male voters and 174 out of 1,392 female voters had turned up.
The reasons behind the dismally low turnout were said to be security fears and traditional lethargy normally witnessed during by-elections.
The government had announced holiday for the constituents without considering the fact that most of the residents worked outside their constituency where they enjoyed no break on account of by-poll.
The constituency overwhelmingly comprised factory workers, labourers and salaried class who preferred their jobs over vote. “Most people may not have voted because polling time conflicted with their job timings,” said a poll officer.
Though the turnout was very low at most places, majority of voters were coming out with chits stamped with MQM emblem which showed the party’s hold was still firm in the area.
An MQM worker at a camp office outside the polling station No.37 admitted the party’s winning ratio would not be as high as it used to be in the past. “Despite low turnout we are winning it anyway by a lower margin,” he said.
He gave a number of reasons for the low turnout and complained the army soldiers had not permitted people who had lost their CNICs but had registered FIRs to cast their votes. “In the situation like this when the turnout is already very low, such actions are highly disappointing,” he said.
A woman, who gave her name as Zakia, said she had her CNIC with her but it was accepted on ground that its number differed with the one on voters’ rolls.
A PTI polling agent, despite the fact that the party had remote prospects for winning, did not mind to boast: “Change is coming, brother! Believe me.”
Army soldiers, paramilitary Rangers and police had been deputed in and outside polling stations. At least one soldier was deployed inside and two outside every polling booth.Shops and markets near polling stations had been closed. Policewomen and female personnel of Rangers had also been deployed. Voting started on time at most polling stations as election material, ballots, stamps, ink etc. were supplied in time.
Presiding officers had been summoned on the eve of polling day to their respective polling stations and had not been allowed to go outside. Their subordinates, however, had been allowed to arrive early in the morning.
The staff complained the election commission did not supply them food as promised. Women’s vote was notably poor. So much so that at least two polling booths of as many polling stations had no votes cast till afternoon.
The Awami National Party had boycotted the by-election but had announced support for the PPP.
Meanwhile, five people suffered injuries when activists of MQM and PTI clashed with each other near Vita Chowrangi in Bilal Colony in the evening, according to police.