On May 11, ballot boxes at some polling stations of NA-250 were packed to capacity and some voters had struggled to slip their ballot papers into the boxes. The re-polling on Sunday at 43 polling stations in the constituency presented a different picture.
Despite the heavy presence of men in khaki, police vehicles and sniffer dogs not many ventured out of their homes to cast ballots. As the unofficial statistics started rolling in, it seemed that the final figure for the voter turnout at the 43 polling stations would be somewhere around 20 per cent.
The low turnout comes despite Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) shows of strength in protests held across the city over seven consecutive days. While talking to The Express Tribune, Mohammad Arif, a PTI polling agent, said, “After the murder of the party’s provincial vice president [Zahra Shahid Hussain] last night, fear has gripped the area and people are scared to go out to vote.” Even before the shooting, some had predicted a low turnout as the major contenders, including candidates from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), had boycotted the re-polling.
By the time the clock struck five - the time polling was to end - only 62 votes had been cast at polling booths set up inside Aisha Bawany Secondary School. The situation was not very different at the booths set up in Aisha Bawany Government College, located next to the school. Of the 1,299 voters registered there, about 73 showed up to give the thumb of approval any candidate.
Surprisingly, among those who had turned up to vote were a few who had decided to stay away from polling stations on May 11. “I didn’t bother to cast vote because of the hooliganism exhibited by activists of [a political party],” said Ali Zain, a young voter who emerged with an inked thumb from a polling station set-up in the midst of Delhi Colony’s bustling market.
The same dismal turnout was witnessed at four polling stations in Hijrat Colony, one polling station each at the Tekri Colony and Shireen Jinnah Colony. While the turnout remained surprisingly low in some areas, voters residing in Defence Housing Authority still braved the heat to vote.
Re-polling at few of polling stations turned controversial as several thousand voters failed to cast vote because of missing lists of blocks. But the presiding officers kept insisting that the missing blocks were already counted on May 11 polls.
The issues were reported at Ismail Allahwala Secondary School in Delhi Colony, Defence Model School located in Phase IV and DHA Girls’ College in Phase VIII. The staff at three polling stations had turned down voters despite their claims that they had yet to be even close to a ballot paper.
SM Talha who was serving as the presiding officer at Ismail Allahwala School told The Express Tribune that a total of four polling stations, 111 to 114, were established at the school on May 11. According to the re-polling notification, however, only those voters registered at polling stations number 113 and 114 were allowed to vote.
Muhammad Huzaifa, who could not find his name on the list said, “This appears to be a drama. It is unjustified and unreasonable to allow re-polling at two polling booths while leaving out the other two at the same venue.” He added that rigging had taken place at some of the venue.
‘May 11 polls were not transparent’
Unlike their counterparts in Defence and Clifton, polling stations in the old city areas were not thronged by enthusiastic voters. According to Syed Atta Ullah Shah Bukhari, a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf polling agent in Aram Bagh, only ten people had turned up to vote in the first few hours though he was confident that others would come in the second half. Bukhari said that he has thrown caution to the wind by coming out to perform his duty in this area, which is ethnically divided and dominated by a party. “My mother stopped me from going in the morning but I have to play my part for a better Pakistan.”
Saeedur Rehman, an assistant presiding officer, said that clearly it looks like an election now unlike in the past where people were bullied to vote for someone. He said that due to yesterday’s violence the turnout is low but he expected it to pick up. Rehman said that a total of 122 people have been brought in from Balochistan for polls duty. “We should have been appointed to conduct polls on May 11 as we are not from the city and hence don’t have any political affiliations. Today’s elections are transparent but the same could not be said for May 11. “
Rukhsana, another assistant presiding officer, said that her team had been at the polling station since morning but people were not turning up, adding that on May 11 there were long lines though many couldn’t vote due to rigging and interference of political activists.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2013.
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