Newly enfranchised: Voter turnout may reach historic highs

Published: May 12, 2013

Pakistani tribal voters stand in a queue as they wait for their turn to cast their votes outside a polling station in restive Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: 

It was a historic election in more ways than one as the 2013 election is set to come close to, if not actually beat, the record for voter turnout set in the country’s first democratic elections in 1970 and the absolute number of votes cast likely to cross the 50 million mark for the first time in the nation’s history.

While the numbers were still being compiled, early estimates late Saturday night and early Sunday morning suggested that overall voter turnout may reach 60% of the total registered voter population of over 86 million, which was later corroborated by Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim in his press conference early Sunday morning.

That number easily eclipses any turnout figure from the “decade of democracy” of the 1990s and even the 2008 elections, which were held after a heady grass-roots campaign to oust a military dictator.

It seems that Pakistani voters were glad to be given the first opportunity ever in the nation’s history to decide on whether or not to keep their democratically elected leaders and they exercised that right with gusto. Voters of all ages and backgrounds were seen throughout the country.

Turnout was especially high in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and urban Sindh. Some parts of Lahore, for instance, reported turnout rates as high as 80%, typical in countries where voting is mandatory but unheard of in Pakistan. The high turnout was especially surprising in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where the Taliban had announced their intentions of violent the polls with attacks. But out they came from their homes, in their millions, to cast their ballots.

While there were scuffles and even serious violence and intimidation at some polling stations, others resembled fairs, with people happy and excited to be out, bound together by a common purpose.

Yet while many parts of the country saw high turnout, not all places were nearly so happy to vote. Turnout in Balochistan was abysmal, and by some accounts, may have been as low as 3% in Panjgur, after separatist groups threatened to target people who tried to vote.

The highest turnout in Balochistan may have been in Lasbela district, which includes Hub, an industrial estate of Karachi. Around 30% of the registered voters in that district are estimated to have shown up at the polls.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2013.

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