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What the vote means to a Pakistani

Despite the threat of violence and terror attacks, many Pakistanis made it a point to vote only because, as some said, they wanted to “see how it feels”, reports Kamal Siddiqi.
By Kamal Siddiqi | Hindustan Times, Karachi
UPDATED ON FEB 18, 2008 10:59 PM IST

In a country where there is no guarantee whether elections will be held at all, let alone every five years, polling day is a special
occasion.

Despite the threat of violence and terror attacks, many Pakistanis made it a point to vote only because, as some said, they wanted to “see how it feels”.

In my case, it was a feeling of empowerment. Earlier, a friend of mine told me that he did not want to vote because “no one can blame me for the people who come to power”. To this, I replied, it’s not a matter of blame but of privilege and that one should be given the choice of people, regardless of who they are, to put into government.

There are many who are cynical. In some polling stations, presiding officers told voters to vote in front of them for a particular candidate. In other instances, people did not have their names on the rolls despite being on the computerised voting list of the Election Commission.

Many were turned away. From different parts of Pakistan, friends and colleagues phoned to tell me of irregularities. It seemed that the only good news was that there was peace by and large. Other than that, many felt cheated. In one instance, a colleague said her vote had already been cast and she was told to do “whatever she could”.

Despite this, I was happy to see that both men and women had made it a point to come and vote. Among those coming to vote were first-timers who came with high expectations and believed that their vote would change the destiny of the country.

And there were those old timers who had voted in several elections and were not so sure what their vote would achieve.

Ninety-year-old Jahan Ara noted that nothing has changed since she first voted in the 70’s.

“The procedure is the same, the confusion is the same, the problems are the same.”

Yet, she was optimistic. So am I. Hopeful that the electoral process may throw up some answers. The rigging, in my opinion, was less than what we saw in 2002. And yet, this is still better than having a dictator rule my country.

In Pakistan, we have had dictatorships, national governments, interim set-ups, Islamic governments and even Ayub Khan’s “basic democracy”.

The only form of government we seem to shy away from is democracy.

For us, Monday is yet another beginning. We are hopeful despite the odds. Given the circumstances, we have little choice in the matter.

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