From lackadaisical to eager: people encounter problems in voting

Published February 9, 2024
Slow pace of voting causes overcrowding at a polling station.—PPI
Slow pace of voting causes overcrowding at a polling station.—PPI

• Citizens groused their votes were transferred far from their residences
• Polling Officers protested lack of stationary items like stamp pads, rulers, etc

KARACHI: When the polling began at 8am on Thursday, there was hushed silence in several parts of Karachi’s district south. The only sound that could be heard clean as a whistle was of young boys hitting the electrical tape-covered tennis ball with their cricket bat as hard as they could and screaming for successfully getting a four or a six.

There was no public transport: online cabs could not be hired and rickshaws were mostly seen comfortably parked on pavements. Buses, too, could not be spotted on roads. Add to the scenario, the suspension of mobile phone and internet services. It was a scene right out of a dream sequence from a dystopian movie.

A touch after 10am, things began to look up, just a bit, though. There was some movement. Al Burooj Islamic School in Clifton Block 8 appeared calm and peaceful because in the first couple of hours of balloting, not many people thronged the polling station. Syed Mohiuddin, the presiding officer looked just as cool as the station he was in charge of. “Everything is good, happening in a transparent way, according to the law,” he said, claiming that the voter turnout was good when the balloting process began.

Shafiq Ahmed, who was presiding over Government Girls Secondary School on the premises of Governor’s House, also sounded satisfied. “Yes, all is fine except that there’s no mobile connection. We have 1600 voters. Obviously, not all of them are going to show up. Some will.”

Things at BVS School didn’t look dissimilar as one of the two presiding officers, Shayan Ahmed Junejo, sounded happy with proceedings. “We have more than expected pieces of furniture, rooms are spacious and clean.”

But the other presiding officer, Ilyas Raza, on the upper floor of the same school, after agreeing that the arrangements were alright and the turnout was ‘low’, pointed out something strange in the voter list. He said, “The voter list is not updated.” He showed a picture of a girl who, as per the list, was 25 years old but looked no more than a girl in her early teens.

Then he turned the page over to draw attention to a couple of other images. “Look at these two pictures. They are little girls. And the ages given in front of their names are in the twenties. Look at their CNIC numbers… they, too, are quite odd. Normally the CNIC number in Sindh starts with 4. Perhaps they’re not updated. These girls are from the same family.” Mr Raza believed it may be an inadvertent mistake and not a deliberate one and added that when officials of the Election Commission came to visit the polling station upstairs, he requested them to take a look at the list, but they didn’t come.

The situation, however, was diametrically opposed in Nazimabad, District Central. One thought that the large crowds of people waiting outside the polling stations had turned up in the afternoon. That wasn’t the case. Apparently, Nazimabad was up for it from the morning.

Government Degree College for Women, Nazimabad 1, NA 249, with its large building hosted a big number of voters. M Abid Khan, the presiding officer, said people had been coming since morning.

J D Bhojwani School, Nazimabad No 1, isn’t a big establishment. So the eagerness with which the voters were trying to get in, after showing their CNIC cards to the policemen at the entrance gate, spoke volumes for how the they felt about the electoral process. One had a feeling that the presiding officers there wouldn’t have to do much about the pre-poll preparation.

But Shanul Haq, the officer, said, “We did it on our own. There was no one from the government to assist us. We are up since last night. We did the ‘setting’ in the morning.” Responding to the query about the turnout, he said it was on the higher side.

Azeem School Nazimabad (NA 250) is housed in a big, formidable building. Interestingly, the queues outside that station were long and crowded. Hafiz Inayat Hussain, one of the six officers presiding over the process, said, “Apart from the limited space provided to the officers, I have no complaints.”

And Shabana Shakeel was looking after the Major Ziauddin School, Nazimabad No 2 (NA 249). “People stood in queues since 7:45am to step into the premises. We’ve been getting a good turnout. And everything is happening in a trouble-free way,” she said.

Karachi is never short of interesting characters on Election Day. It was no different this time around. One of them was Bilal Sheikh, a young man who resembled Bollywood star Saif Ali Khan, standing at a camp outside Azeem School. When told about the resemblance, he said he’s aware of it. As for the voting atmosphere, he exclaimed, “All circumstances are set.”

Complaints of voters

All came across as hunky-dory. But some voters did grouse about the inconsistencies in the voter list. They also complained that their votes have been transferred just before the polls far from the areas they were residing and facing difficulty to reach out the respective polling stations.

Sohail Iqbal Khan, whose wife cast her vote at Major Ziauddin School, said, “I live in Pak Colony. When I showed my CNIC at a polling camp, they told I needed to cast my ballot somewhere else and my wife, here. I don’t understand the system because after a bit of struggle I found this polling station [for his wife]. I’ve been living in Pak Colony for a long time and have always taken part in elections from the colony.”

The voters also slammed the caretaker government for shutting down the cellular and mobile internet service even before the polling process was kicked off.

The polling staff at several stations also expressed their grievances and said that they were kept waiting to collect election material last night at dispatch centres and also complained over lack of facilities at polling stations, including non-provision of food and potable water.

Stationery problems

In NA-249 district Central constituency, a polling station was set up in Sir Syed Government Girls College Nazimabad, where a Polling Officer complained about insufficient provisions of election material from the ECP.

Sharing details, the officer said they were short of stationery like stamp pads, rulers, etc. There were only two stamp pads in a classroom in which two polling booths were operating. One pad was shuttling between two Polling Officers present in the room to stamp ballot papers and counterfoils while the other pad was placed at the booth to put the stamp mark next to the symbol of the candidate on the ballot paper to cast vote.

The other problem was shortage of rulers, which was used to detach ballot paper from the counterfoil in the main body of the ballot paper book.

The officer had only one six-inch small ruler, which was being used to carefully tear individual ballot paper out from the book along the perforated line.

Little problems like these were causing delays and slowing down the pace of proceedings, which were irritating voters and resulting in accumulation of voters standing in queues.

Mohammad Asim Rehman also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2024

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