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Dial a vote

March 02, 2012

The Election Commission’s new SMS service for voters to check whether they are listed in the electoral rolls for upcoming elections is simply awful. It’s so darn easy, send your ID card number to 8300 and it hits back in less than a second. It comes as a shock in a country where you have to wait in long queues to even pay your utility bills.

It’s cool too, and might help our Facebook generation to become part of the old fashioned electoral process without loosing any of their X factors. But when I tried this service there was an additional surprise for me and that was my electoral area or the area where I am supposed to cast my vote come elections.

I got my first identity card almost three decades ago. One of the many bhai jans that my entire ancestral mohallah in Multan shared used to work in the same department. So it wasn’t difficult. But then I moved to Lahore for education never to go back. My second identity card, the computerised one, was issued from Islamabad where I lived to work as a journalist for few years. It had Islamabad for my temporary address and Multan as permanent. My mother was still living there with one of my sisters and that justified Multan as my permanent latitude-longitude.

I was called by my bankers a few months back reminding that my identity card was about to expire and I had to get it renewed. The expiry of my official identity before that of my physical being was a rude reminder of how much I owe to my rulers. I had little choice though, I could not afford my checks bouncing around and ATMs throwing up in my face. My new glimmering shiny card has Lahore as my temporary abode and writes Multan as my epitaph. It rings many a bells for me and offers me many opportunities to enjoy exciting flashbacks. But I certainly cannot cast my vote in a day-dream.

Following a change in the law, the Election Commission has used the Nadra database to develop electoral rolls. The database can tell who is who as it has family trees, pictures and biometrics for everyone. But it can’t tell who is living where at a certain time. People move quite frequently and their addresses change quickly. The Commission needs to know both who is who and who lives where to ensure that a well greased machinery is ready for elections. The first responsibility has been outsourced to Nadra (well, elections or no election they have to have it) and the later – simply shirked upon?

The SMS tells me that I am a voter but also that I can’t vote if I don’t go through a rather tedious process of raising an objection to the rolls on a form, getting it signed by an official etc.

That’s painfully repetitive. The same episode has been played every time before a general election. Everyone can enjoy old wine ignoring whether the bottle is new or old (who cares about the bottle?) but the same old stuff in the format of new technology - who is going to have fun with it?

The swift shot back message generated by the SMS server, however, effectively gives the Election Commission an image of a modern and efficient institution but it also tells us that our electoral rolls woes are not over yet.

 

The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.