Clad in modern dresses, sporting branded sunglasses and holding mineral water bottles, a large number of youngsters came out to cast their votes for the first time on Saturday. The fun-filled atmosphere, especially in the posh areas, showed the people wanted to revive a progressive, liberal and a well-mannered society.
Their passion for change was admirable but perhaps they had expected too much. After 1971, this was the first general election held under the slogan of change. But their dreams were shattered in Karachi.
After a day of disappointments, bad governance, lawlessness and terror, polling in the port city finally came to an end amid widespread tension and fear.
The election commission had extended the voting time for three hours in constituencies where balloting could not start on time for various reasons. But the additional hours went to waste because the polling agents announced there were no ballot papers.
Realising the situation, the election authorities called re-elections in 40 polling stations across NA-250.
A large number of people, who had come to vote for change, left without even casting their votes. “Nothing can be changed in this country,” a middle-aged woman, who flied in from abroad to change the country through the ballot, said in a depressed tone. “Like me, most of the people want change just for our younger generation.”
A youngster at a polling station in PECHS, when told there were no ballot papers or boxes, said: “Bad governance and corruption have won again.”
Justice (retd) Fakharuddin G Ebrahim, the chief election commissioner, was the first one to cast his vote at a Clifton polling station in his constituency NA-250. He claimed there would be no rigging as the army had made arrangements to maintain law and order.
“Good people must come to vote otherwise the bad people would be elected,” he had said. But the on-ground situation was totally different not only in NA-250 but the whole city.
While political parties had expected the voter turnout to be low due to extremist threats and no proper election campaigns, the situation turned out to be completely different and the turnout almost doubled from the previous elections.
The official estimates put the voter turnout to be more than 60 percent but independent observers were more cautious, claiming it to be over 50 percent.
The situation was very tense in the constituencies, which were recently delimited on the Supreme Court directives. The voting continued, however, without major hurdles in these constituencies considered as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement strongholds and the turnout was well over the expectations of the political parties.
The elections turned out to be the first one in the country’s history where every political party, whether winning or losing, lodged complaints about rigging and lawlessness.
While more than four parties announced a polling boycott, the election commission authorities admitted failure in holding “transparent” elections in Karachi – the commercial hub and the largest city of Pakistan.
“We have been unable to hold free and fair elections in Karachi,” the commission said in a statement but it remains unclear whether the elections will be held again or not.
Despite the popular demand to deploy army at polling stations, all the parties complained there were no law enforcement personnel in the field to save the situation.
The provincial caretaker government had set up two poll-related complaint cells and both cells received a large number of complaints. However, no action was taken to redress these complaints.
The MQM was the first to lodge a protest about election rigging, alleging armed men had occupied polling stations in Lyari. Dr Farooq Sattar claimed that the mandate of the MQM was being snatched in Lyari. The party announced the boycott of elections from NA-248 and its provincial constituencies PS-109 and 108. The area is a traditional stronghold of the Pakistan People’s Party.
Within 90 minutes of the MQM announcement, the Jamaat-e-Islami also came out, lodging a protest against massive poll rigging. The party announced a boycott of election results, alleging the MQM workers had taken over all polling stations. JI chief Munawar Hasan claimed neither the army, Rangers or election commission were replying to his complaints.
One hour later, the Afaq Ahmed-led Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and Sunni Tehreek also withdrew from participating in the elections, alleging widespread rigging. The PPP also accused the MQM of kidnapping party candidates and workers and forcing out polling agents of the party candidates.
Dr Arif Alvi, a PTI candidate on NA-250, who was confident of wining in the morning, was disappointed at the end of the day. He held the law enforcement agencies responsible for the whole situation. “The MQM showed the same power on the polling day that it showed on 12 May, 2007,” he commented.
The chief election commissioner was quite upset with the whole situation and reportedly phoned the Karachi corps commander and Rangers director general, complaining about the kidnapping of polling staff and armed people snatching election material. The aged Ebrahim could not, however, bear the pressure and left for Islamabad later in the day.
Better luck next time?
The dream of the civil society to change the system could not bear fruits this time in Karachi and the situation indicated that MQM will retain almost all the seats that it won in 2008.
The loser would be the PPP, which might even lose out on some seats. With no other party in a position to achieve its targets, this was the “big change” in Karachi.