They say you never forget your first. And a first it was, for a lot of things election related on May 11. And yet, quite sadly, to the finish line was not one they had envisaged.
The unsung warriors
This electoral round also saw the entry of several unlikely candidates, such as Hajiani Lanjo, Badam Zari, Ruqayya Hashmi and Veeru Kohli.
Lanjo, the first female candidate from Tharparkar, stated that the joy of contesting paled in comparison to the rigging and harassment she witnessed in Mithi and the surrounding areas.
“These elections are neither free nor fair. So there is nothing to celebrate,” she said with a tinge of sadness.
Similarly, Veeru Kohli, a former bonded labour running for a provincial seat in Hyderabad, claimed that many of her fellow Hindus were not allowed to vote. She specifically named PPP’s Sharjeel Memon for intimidating voters.
“The officers were pulling their [the Hindus] hair and kicking them out from the polling stations. Nearly 500 Hindu women have not been allowed to vote,” she said.
Badam Zari, the first female candidate from Bajaur Agency, said that she and her sister-in-law were the only two women at her polling station. She later found out that hundreds of women from the surrounding areas of Sherbet and Aurang had showed up to vote.
On the other hand, Ruqayya Hashmi, the sole female Shia Hazara candidate from Quetta, said she already felt victorious, as women voters’ turnout ranged from 25-45 % in most areas.
A step forward, a step back
The decision to allow transgenders, like Bindiya Rana from Karachi and Sanam Faqeer from Sukkur, to vote and contest the elections was termed a “historical leap” by many. However, Rana stated that while she was thrilled to enjoy the same position as any other Pakistani citizen, she was thoroughly disappointed by the mismanagement at the polling stations.
“There was a constant feeling of insecurity at the polling stations,” she said.
Faqeer, on the other hand, was satisfied with the election process, but said the response of the people was mixed. “While some chanted slogans in our support, there were also those who mocked our presence,” she stated.
First-timers and expats
This electoral round was also memorable because of the number of voters who exercised their rights for the first time, and those who have flown thousands of miles, just to have their voice heard.
But for 33-year-old Angbeen Shahid, who flew to Karachi from Dubai, the experience was a bust. After waiting in line for 7 hours, she was told that the voting for her constituency, NA-250, had been postponed. “All the enthusiasm and spirit I was feeling 24 hours ago has turned to anger and disappointment,” Shahid said.
Conversely, 46-year-old Zeeshan Khalique, who flew in from Singapore with his wife, said the experience was worth every penny. “It was exhilarating. I felt an immense sense of ownership over the country,” he said.
First-time voters Zohreen Lotia and Fahad Qayyum also voiced similar opinions. “The lines were endless and the heat was unbearable. But it felt like Eid and hopefully our Eidi will be a better and brighter future for Pakistan,” they said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2013.
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