Wiping the beads of sweat of her forehead, 40-year-old Jameela Ahmed, recalled the five hours she spent outside her polling station in Bizerta Lines. “It was so hot and I waited in line for so long to cast my vote. And when my turn was near, polling stopped because the time was up. I felt like crying then.”
The scorching sun tested Jameela’s patience again on Wednesday as she sat among the protesters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement who were demanding re-polling in her constituency of NA-250.
“Hundreds of voters like me were not able to cast their votes as polling was delayed due to the unavailable ballot boxes and stamps. We want elections to be held again so that we can vote,” explained the sun-burnt woman, who had been anxiously voting for five years to show her ‘dedication’ to her party.
Despite 36 hours passing by, the MQM activists and supporters remained undeterred by the hot weather and the security threats, and continued their dharna outside the Sindh election commission office in Saddar. Their demand was clear and simple - re-elections should be held in the entire constituency of NA-250 instead of just 43 polling stations as ordered by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
A wide representation
The protesters gathered for MQM’s sit-in were not only from Defence Housing Authority and Clifton, but also from Delhi Colony, Bizerta Lines and other underdeveloped areas of the constituency which faced delays on May 11.
Barkat Ali from Qayyumabad was among those who were unable to put their stamp on the kite. At his area in sector-C, voting started at 2pm and was wrapped up by 6pm. “They did not even extend the time and many were left disappointed.” Ali, who witnessed smooth polling in the 2008 elections, said that this time his polling station was at a distance of 4kms from his home and they had to walk to the station as public transport was not available.
Dr Fauzia Hameed, a resident of Gizri, said that she had come to protest even though her son’s O’ Level paper was being held on the same day. “I am here to raise voice for all the people who became victims of the election commission’s inefficiency that day [May 11],” she said. She was sitting cross-legged among a group of women holding banners who claimed that they did not get any sleep because of protest all night.
With the protesters occupying the entire road, the passport office remained closed and so were the green doors of the election commission.
Ready to stay as long as it takes
All arrangements for the dharna were taken into consideration by the party – a tent had been put up to protect the men and women from the scorching sun, mobile toilets had been set up on the side, and food items, such as biscuits, custard packets and water bottles, were frequently being distributed. For lunch and dinner, the protesters — who kept the festive mood alive — had biryani.
Apart from raising slogans such as jeena hoga, marna hoga, dharna hoga dharna hoga [live or die, sit-in will continue], the party workers would often get up and dance to the party songs blaring from the loudspeakers. For security, the party had deployed their own men who checked each person going inside.
MQM’s candidate for NA-250 Khushbakht Shujaat said that after seeing the situation on the day of election, they had immediately written to the election commission. “Why should there be polling in only 43 stations? Are these people not part of NA-250?” she asked, gesturing towards the crowd. She stated that the MQM protesters were protesting in a constitutional manner in front of the election commission as opposed to those blocking main roads. “Because of the election commission, ballot boxes did not reach on time and polling staff was absent.”
The dharna will continue till the demand for re-election in entire NA-250 is met, stated the adamant protesters.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2013.