KARACHI: Some presiding officers may have been upset with the zero turnout in ANP-dominated areas, but it was no less than Eid in MQM-dominated areas on Sunday. Women picked out their Sunday best, coordinated bangles, sandals and hair clips. Those who could not find the right match decided to wear bangles with the MQM red, green and white colours.
Although officials had initially claimed that the threat of suicide attacks kept female voters away, those at the women polling stations looked anything but terrified. In fact, by just 9:15 am, a polling agent at Hafiz-ur-Rehman School in Sector 11.5 of Orangi Town had issued her 147th ballot paper to a voter. “We are so tired of these questions about the ‘security situation’ in Orangi. Don’t you see how peaceful this area is and how these women are all up so early on a Sunday to cast their vote?” she asked.
The polling agents had a valid point. With the MQM offering a free pick-and-drop service for its voters spread across the town, the women had little reason to refuse. The vans first dropped the women at the registration camp to collect their voting cards, which were issued after their names were identified on the list. For many, this meant a long wait if a member of their family was not present.
“How many times should I tell you my daughter is married and she won’t be able to cast her vote,” yelled one voter. “But she has to come here to vote otherwise we cannot give you your card,” came the stout reply from the agent at the camp. “In that case, forget it! Both your votes are gone now,” said the voter who went back in the van.
Others were more accommodating. “Our vote is just something we keep safe for the MQM,” said Rameen Aziz, a resident near Jinnah High School, one of the women polling stations where 1,502 female voters were registered. “We’ve always given it to them.”
Despite this enthusiasm, some presiding officers complained that many of their voters kept away after a police press conference warning of a suicide attack on polling stations. “Many of our voters who recently migrated to other areas due to the law and order situation in Orangi but are still listed here said they would not come because they are scared,” said Sarwar Alam, who was in charge of a polling station.
Nonetheless, the MQM is popular in the area and has held on to this seat in PS-94 for the past 20 years. The recent assassination of MPA Raza Haider, that led to this by-poll, further reinforced the party’s victory in terms of voter sympathy. “I know I won’t see Saifuddin Khalid ever, but the manner in which Raza Haider was targeted and how most of their political workers die on a day to day basis, I think I owe this to them,” said a voter at Hafiz-ur-Rehman School.
For others, however, the electoral process had ended with the death of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Outside the Shaheedan-e-Watan Memorial Secondary School, a polling station in Ghausia Baloch Colony, Baloch voters were serving tea to the police and rangers but none of them stepped inside the school to cast their vote. “We only supported the PPP and that too during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto’s era,” said senior citizen Nabi Baksh. “After their death, elections and democracy mean nothing to us.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2010.