As the first phase of the local government (LG) elections kicked off from upper Sindh on Saturday, voters trudged along to their polling stations with little to no hope for change.
The elections for local representatives in eight districts of upper Sindh - Sukkur, Khairpur, Ghotki, Jacobabad, Kashmore-Kandhkot, Shikarpur, Larkana and Kamber-Shahdadkot - started at a slow pace with very few votes cast in the first three hours. The second phase of the LG polls will take place in lower Sindh on November 19 and the third phase in Karachi on December 5.
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Since the primary teachers’ association had boycotted election duties due to their tiff with the education secretary, the local administration had to request officials from other departments, such as local bodies and irrigation, to conduct the polls. Unsurprisingly, these officers were untrained and it took them hours to understand the procedures.
Trying to overcome these administrative hurdles were the enthusiastic candidates contesting the elections. They had arranged for Suzuki vans, rickshaws and cars to carry their voters to the polling stations and back. They also offered biryani, haleem, rice, kachoris, samosas and teas to all those who chose to exercise their democratic right.
This enthusiasm was unmatched by the voters, most of whom seemed indifferent. “It makes no difference, whether or not you cast your vote,” a woman told The Express Tribune. Leaders of the ruling party who have been elected for the last 30 years or so have fielded their scions to claim their share in politics, she said. “What type of democracy is this in which only a few influential families are getting a chance to contest and win the elections?”
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Voters Muhammad Hanif and Rashid Ali agreed that elections in Pakistan mean power for a select few families. Muhammad Yamin, another voter, did not expect anything different from the candidates, who are merely scions of senior politicians. He pointed out that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) would not have held the LG elections had the apex court not forced them to. “Therefore, they [PPP and PML-N] are using all possible means to keep the power within the family,” he said.
Inside Khairpur Law College polling station, the staff was busy eating samosas and drinking tea while the female voters stamped one ballot paper after another. In a Nara polling station, the Rangers arrested two men, Malook Marecho and Zafar Shar, for casting more than one vote. Since all polling stations in Nara were declared sensitive, the polls were held under the army’s supervision.
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In Ghotki, the Mahar clan members were keeping the voters of their rivals away from the polling stations, claimed a voter, Latif Laghari. “If small kiosks selling SIM cards can use the biometric system, why can’t the Election Commission of Pakistan?” he asked.
Hardly 30 to 40 per cent of the registered voters turned up, said Fida Bhatti, a local journalist in Kamber-Shahdadkot. “Massive rigging has taken place despite the presence of the election staff and the police. Instead of the voters, polling agents and influential people are casting votes.”
Television footage showed people standing in front of a polling station in Larkana’s union council No. 5 and greasing the palms of the voter. However, information minister Nisar Khuhro called this a conspiracy against the party.
Meanwhile, Thari Mirwah DSP Fida Awan was caught red-handed by the Rangers as he was stamping ballot papers in Khemtia polling station. He was in their custody until last reports. A female political activist belonging to an influential family of Khairpur city was also caught casting bogus votes but she managed to escape.
In Gambat, assistant presiding officer Muharram Ali Kalhoro was kidnapped from a polling station. “The assistant presiding officer has been taken away by activists of a political party,” claimed a polling officer, requesting anonymity.
Shortage of ballot papers
There was a shortage of ballot papers in Kamber Shahdadkot district. “There are 1,500 voters registered in this polling station but only 800 ballot papers have been transported by the polling officials,” said a worried voter Inamul Haq, who was standing in front of Bohar polling station. “The presiding officer has called the district returning officer but we have been waiting for long two hours to cast our votes.”
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In some areas, there are no electoral symbols printed on the ballot papers, he said. “People were looking for the arrow [PPP’s symbol] but it was missing.”
Boycott in Daharki
As many as 150 registered male voters and 80 female voters boycotted the local bodies’ polls in Wasti Jeevan Shah polling station in Ubauro tehsil as they were protesting the shifting of the polling station late at night from Umar Shar to Asad Damdama.
The candidates for chairperson and vice-chairperson from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Abdul Kareem and Muhammad Asif Gurgage, respectively, boycotted the election in protest as the new polling station was located at a distance of 14 kilometres. As a result, the registered voters of the area, who were members of the Shar tribe, boycotted the polls and not even a single vote was cast.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2015.
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