KARACHI: The sights and sounds on Sunday at the Defence Model School seemed to have been from another world than those that captured the senses on May 11. Back then, irate voters had sat huddled in groups on the pavement - some for over 12 hours - before returning home without getting a chance to slip their ballot papers into the boxes.
This time, a portion of Commercial Avenue had been blocked off by large containers and tankers. Six policemen stood in the space between the vehicles, demanding to see CNICs before letting people walk past to the space outside the school where camera crews excitedly rushed to every voter they could spot.
Another stark difference was the nine jeeps full of hawk-eyed jawans. The men in khakis stood poker-faced, with rifles against their abdomens. One of them gave a fleeting grin as he shook the tiny palm of a toddler swaddled in her mother’s arms. In the next instant, when she had passed, all traces of expression seemed to have simply melted from his face.
One law enforcer was even roaming around with a group of black and golden Labradors for good measure. A rather large German Shepherd could be seen sniffing bags just beyond the gate. Despite the fact that the mercury hit 35 degrees, people were satisfied with the arrangements. “Now this is the way to vote! This is the way it should be done in every elections in Karachi and Hyderabad,” said Naseer Ahmed Iqbal, as he wiped beads of sweat which meandered down his face.
Fewer names in the hat
Given that the major contenders for NA-250 had pulled out of the race, it wasn’t a surprise that a lot of people who had turned up to vote at this polling station clearly indicated exactly where they would be placing stamps on ballot papers. Shahreyar, a young voter clad in a green t-shirt and shorts, was all smiles as he walked leisurely towards the gate. “Now that Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have boycotted the polls, there’s a good chance PTI will win!”
Another voter in a burqa raised her inked thumb to the cloudless, azure heavens as she stepped out of the school and proclaimed, “Upar Allah, neechay balla,” leaving everyone around her chuckling. But there was confusion here too, which left some fuming. Some voters were unaware that the Election Commission of Pakistan had announced - unknown to them - that there would be no polling at station number 138. “They told me my vote has been cast and I should go home. What am I supposed to do now?” yelled a bearded man as he brandished his identity card.
Lending a hand
Some had even abandoned sleep on Sunday morning and were standing in the sweltering heat even though the election commission didn’t require them to vote again. One of them, Sahar Hameed, had put on her oven mitts for democracy: she was distributing cupcakes frosted with the colours of the PTI flag to famished voters. She said the treats were for everyone, regardless of which symbol they would be putting the stamp on. “My three-year-old daughter helped me prepare the cupcakes. I would have brought her here, but I didn’t know if it was safe for her to tag along,” she added with a nervous laugh.
Her box of goodies became considerably lighter within a short span of time. Even a rotund, jovial policeman walked up to her with his hand outstretched. “Ma’am sahib, mujhe bhi aik cake mil jaye ga? [Ma’am, could I please have a cake too?]” he said.
A 58-year-old man, Maqbool, was also lugging around a bag bursting at the seams with chilled bottles of water. “I cast my vote on May 11, but I’m out here to support those who have left the comfort of their homes again to keep democracy alive and do their jobs,” he said as he handed it out to the parched cameramen who had been baking in the heat since the morning.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2013.