KARACHI: Although the turnout in the metropolis was not historically high, a large number of youngsters took time to reach their respective polling stations on Thursday in order to exercise their right of franchise for the very first time in their life.

Young boys and girls, who came out of their houses on the day of polling, appeared full of energy and hope.

From the excitement of civic duty to confronting doubts about fairness of election results, the youth of the city seemed to be making a collective call to all people to recognise the power of vote despite challenges to democracy.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, around 1.4 million eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 25 years reside in the seven districts of Karachi. They include over 554,300 females and approximately 841,390 males.

“It was an interesting experience and I felt very good while I voted for the first time. And I believe that despite all the issues concerning fairness of elections and their results, we should not abstain from exercising our right to vote,” said young Fatima who voted for the first time in Federal B Area.

She added that voting was a right she had been granted which she must use and that voting was a sort of luxury for thousands of women who lived in remote and under-developed areas as they hardy got a chance to exercise that right.

A medical student, Zoya Babur, who came along with her parent to cast her first vote in one of the polling stations of NA-241 (South) near Teen Talwar, told Dawn that for her the election day was as exciting as Eid.

While a media science student, Zehra, who had cast her vote in one of the polling stations of the NA-238 (East), told Dawn about her vote for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) backed independent candidate Haleem Adil Sheikh, adding that the ‘current situation in country’ influenced her to come out to exercise her right. She had gathered information about her candidate through social media platforms.

Standing in a queue, Ammar-i-Azam, who is studying film, mentioned that the family’s encouragement to vote as a means “to bring about change in this country” further fuelled his decision to come here.

Huzaifa and Suhaib, two friends, also said they had come to vote for the PTI and despite ‘fears’ that there would be ‘rigging’, they said they wanted to vote for Imran Khan.

Similarly, another young boy, also a first-time voter who was voting for the PTI said that although his leader [Imran Khan] was in jail, it made no difference for him and he would still vote for PTI candidates.

Similarly, Ali Faisal, an engineering student, highlighted the prevailing circumstances as his impetus to cast his vote. He opted for Jamaat-i-Islami for the provincial seat and the PTI-backed independent candidate in the national assembly seat.

Young Mariam was roaming around in a polling station at Surjani Town with her elderly mother because they were having issues finding exactly which room they had to cast their vote in. She, too, was casting her vote for the first time, and said that although there were doubts and uncertainty over the fairness of elections, it was still her responsibility to go out and vote and the rest was up to the fate.

Whereas two teenage sisters casting their votes for the first time at the polling station in North Nazimabad’s Shipowners’ Government College said they were feeling good after casting their vote, adding that the process was easy and interesting.

Zaryab from Gulshan-i-Iqbal said casting vote was very important for bringing forward the right people and he believed that election results would be fair.

While Anas, who had come to Bufferzone’s government college to cast his vote, said unlike the previous election, he was not much hopeful that elections would be totally fair.

However, some had to face certain hurdles as well.

Accompanied by his father, 22-year-old Mustafa had come from Baloch Colony to Soldier Bazaar to cast his first vote. He lamented the issue of his vote not being registered in his residential area.

Facing similar hurdles in a polling station of NA-240 (South), Nauman Afzan travelled from Aram Bagh to Kharadar to cast his vote, criticising that the ‘system is making every possible effort to keep a certain man away from the electoral process’.

However, not all young voters shared the same enthusiasm. There were also those who appeared disillusioned with the political landscape, citing corruption and inefficiency as deterrents to voters’ participation.

Young at heart — it’s never too late to start

Roohi Shuja, who had come to vote at the ABSA College for the Deaf in Phase 2 extension, which falls under the NA-241, was voting for the first time even though she could not exactly be called 18 years of age.

Roohi was there with her son, daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

Asked what was her motivation to finally turn into a voter after all these years, she just shrugged and said: “Just time pass. I was getting bored so I thought about voting this time.”

Roohi’s son Syed Rashaan said that the main push for his mother to finally vote came in the form of a phone call from his maternal uncle Nadeem Khan one night before. “He himself cannot vote because he is in Japan. The last time he voted was back in the 1990s,” the young man laughed.

At the Nixor College polling station in DHA Phase 6, Nawal Aziz and younger brother Hamdan ul Aziz were voting for the first time in their lives.

Nawal said that she did her research before coming to vote. “I studied the manifestos of different parties before coming to my decision,” she said.

“And she also enlightened me,” the brother added.

At a Gizri polling station, Ranjeeta was proud to inform that she was also voting for the first time in her life. “And I’m so glad that I am going to help Imran Khan with my first vote,” she spilled the beans.

Also at the same polling station was 23-year-old Sharmin Shaikh, who also admitted to voting for the first time. “I’m late. I should have also voted in 2018. But I will now do the needful at least,” she said.

At a PECHS polling station set up in Government Boys Secondary School under the NA-238 and PS-132 constituencies, one ran into Fazilat Jahan, who had covered her head with a bright a red scarf and had a Pakistan flag draped over her shoulders. “Do you even need to ask who I am going to vote for?” The first-time voter smiled.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2024

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