Election day tips: Be prepared, there is no separate line for the rich
Voting will be not be easy. You may have to queue up under the sun, but you must vote for yourself - for Pakistan.
I remember the days leading up to the general elections 2008 like it was yesterday. I was working as a news reporter for Dawn News based out of Karachi and the intensity of the chaos which usually forms the climate in a newsroom was building up.
The channel had drafted in and trained dozens of volunteers to help tabulate the Election Day results. The creative department headed by a young and talented lady was working full throttle, churning out savvy graphics and what appeared to be Star Trek inspired tunes especially created for the occasion.
Our director news, a short smurf-like character that reined terror and admiration at the hearts of all his employees, was smoking cigarettes more profusely than I had ever seen him before.
Then the big day arrived.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto had created an atmosphere of terror and we all were certain that something horribly wrong would happen on the day of the polls. I was assigned to look after the area stretching from the Board Office in North Nazimabad all the way to the far end of Surjani Town.
I still remember the words of an executive producer when he instructed me:
“Whether it’s a bomb blast, rigging, threats to voters, a gun fight or whatever else, you are our first and only point of contact in that area. Do not mess up!”
I started the day at five in the morning, and with my crew of a cameraman and a driver, started cruising around.
I saw the early morning briefing of police at Shara-e-Noor Jahan police station, saw how literally at every polling station all the polling officers arrived late. I saw the queues to vote get longer then shorter and then longer again.
I remember at around 11:00am my driver noticed black smoke rising in the horizon. Assuming the worst, I told him to rush towards it, upon reaching the site we saw a few women burning an unusually large heap of trash. Though environmentally criminal, it was hardly newsworthy that day. I found some consolation in the fact that the police mobile from Shara-e-Noor Jahan arrived a few minutes after me!
My point of writing all of this is to let you know that unlike a lot of people reading this, I do have experience of what polling day is like and I would humbly like to share with you some points to make your voting day less surprising and unexpected and also to remind you that no matter how tempting the reason for not getting out of your house on May 11 might be, you must still get out and vote.
Despite all the social media activism witnessed in the run up to these elections, you must remember that the ballot will be held in the brick and mortar real world and not in the comfort of your couch in front of a screen. It will be conducted and monitored by average people from the government institutions - the same people who aren't very helpful in most other days of the year.
The best thing you can do when you wake up on Saturday, is to mentally prepare yourself for this day. The security situation in the country is no secret. Pre-plan the trip to the polling station and if necessary, travel in groups with your neighbours who will most likely have the same polling station as you.
Saturday, May 11, is forecasted to be a hot day across (most of) Pakistan with temperatures ranging from late 30s to early 40s degree centigrade. Yes, it will be very hot; carry a water bottle or ORS, but if you feel as though the heat is becoming your reason for not voting, think of the all the days and nights of heat spent in load-shedding over the years.
Do you want more of that? Then get out and vote.
The polling stations themselves are usually government buildings like schools and colleges. We don’t have the best of infrastructures and you are likely to have to queue up for hours outside without any shade. There are no separate lines for the rich and poor or classy and 'maila'.
If you feel this is becoming your reason for not voting and going back home, think about the separate lines which we are sent to when we travel on a green passport.
Don't you want your dignity back? Get out and vote.
As you stand in the line you will see small tents set up outside the vicinity of the polling station of different political parties with banners, flags and strange looking men staring at the voters while appearing to jot things down on paper. Whatever they claim their reason to be, they are simply there to intimidate you. Do not get scared, your vote is a secret and nobody outside the polling booth will know which symbol you ticked. Disregard them completely.
If anyone does approach you, you have the right to report it to the presiding officer, and besides in the middle of so many people, nobody will have the guts. If you see this becoming your reason for not voting, think of all the scores of people you have seen killed on the news over the years.
We need change. Get out and vote.
Finally, as you make your way in, you will be identified by your identity card and handed a ballot paper. By making it this far you have officially fulfilled the most basic democratic responsibility you owe to your country. Vote for whoever you like and remember that your ability to do this has been made possible by the sacrifice of far too many lives.
Maybe say a little prayer for the future.
This Saturday forget all statuses, classes, ethnicities, traditional family trends. No matter what combination of red, green, white and black flag you support, go out and vote.
Vote for Pakistan.
Read more by Asif here or follow him on Twitter @asifhasansheikh