Karachista: The newbies’ guide to voting

Pakistan’s upcoming election is the hot topic of discussion everywhere

Salima Feerasta May 04, 2013
Designer Rizwan Beyg says "vote for sale in exchange for bijli (electricity), pani (water), gas, CNG and YouTube - have other voters willing to sell as well for the same.

KARACHI: “Do you plan to vote in the upcoming elections?” Elsewhere, the question would be “Who do you plan to vote for?” but Pakistan has one of the world’s lowest voter turnouts. This, however, is about to change.  The upcoming election is the hot topic of discussion everywhere from dhabas to Twitter.

Facebook is rife with political talk, including engaging videos encouraging people to vote.  Before you dismiss the social media, did you know that the PPP made a government with only 10.2 million votes? There are 8 million Pakistanis on Facebook alone. Bangladesh managed 87% voter turnout last election in comparison to our 44%. In some posh areas like Clifton/Defence in Karachi, the turnout was a mere 30%. This time, however, people from all sections of society, who have never voted before, are choosing to so do. And it’s not just men — from workers in beauty salons to ladies who go out lunching, more women than ever before are planning to vote.

So how easy is it to vote? The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been publicising its SMS 8300 service where, for a mere Rs2, you text your NIC number to 8300 and receive your voting details. I tried it last week and within five minutes, I received details of my polling station and two numbers: my serial number and my block code. Unfortunately, it seems you need a degree in election-ology to decipher what those two numbers mean.

The SMS didn’t tell me what my constituency is and neither did the ECP website which is a masterpiece of mismanagement. It tells you an awful lot about the election without telling you anything useful. There is no way to use your serial number or block code to work out your constituency. There is a voter education handbook but it gives guidelines for voter education programmes instead of offering any useful information for actual voters. The site gives a full list of the candidates and their addresses, but doesn’t tell you which constituency they are running for. In order to find out which party they belong to you have to look at their assigned symbol and go back to a list of 134 symbols to work out which party they are running for. For a newbie like me, the party symbol list is confusing as there are so many parties that have similar names. I resort to Google to work out the symbols of the main parties.

Similarly Google helps me work out that Clifton is in NA-250 and that my candidates include Khushbakht Shujaat for MQM and Dr Arif Alvi for PTI. This revives my flagging interest after the frustrating search to find my constituency and candidates. There remains confusion because the polling station info for my block code on the ECP site is hidden in a .rar file about polling stations. A PTI supporter has since launched a great site called whereismyballot.com where you input your block code and it pulls up the polling station information from the ECP website. Why the ECP couldn’t have made things this easy is anyone’s guess.

I intend to make the attempt to vote. At the last election in 2008, the winning margin for NA-250 was less than 8,000 votes. Only one third of the 350,000 registered voters cast their vote.

But will the election be fair?

Stories of poll rigging from previous elections:

“Yes ma’am, I went to vote but when they gave me the ballot paper they stood over me and watched to make sure I voted for their party.”

“I was too late to vote. No, the polls hadn’t closed but when they checked my NIC they said I’d already been to vote earlier. It looks like someone had voted for me.”

Another complained that when his thumb was inked they took his thumb and stamped his vote before handing him the paper. These and other abuses are undoubtedly rife. Doctors from national hospitals who are among those required to invigilate have confirmed that they have been told by party workers to look the other way at polling stations.

It’s naïve to think that vote rigging doesn’t go on. However, with the vested parties watching each other and with increased power and scrutiny by the media there is hope that things will improve. Those who have never voted or attempted to vote cannot bemoan the situation when they have never made the least push to put things right. By not turning out to vote we make things easier for those who rig elections. The only way to change a system is from within.

Get ready to vote:

1) Send your CNIC number (no dashes or spaces) to 8300 and wait for a message from Election Commission of Pakistan

2) Note down BLOCK CODE from the SMS

3) Input your BLOCK CODE into whereismyballot.com and note down your polling station

4) The SMS will also contain your serial number in the voter list. It will be useful when you enter the polling station

5) Repeat for family and friends

6) Show up early to vote

Oxford-grad Salima Feerasta is a social commentator and lover of style in any form or fashion. She blogs at karachista.blogspot.com and tweets @karachista

Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2013.

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Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that Farooq Sattar was MQM's candidate for NA-250, instead of Khushbakht Shujaat. The error has been rectified.


Salima Feerasta | 11 years ago | Reply

6th May - @karachista: The 8300 service has been just updated by the ECP - it now tells you your NA constituency and actual polling station address as well as block code and serial number.

Stranger | 11 years ago | Reply

Yes I found this article informative. Some basics of voting are dealth with here.

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