Muhammad Zahid Rifat |
The casting of a vote in the general election for the National and Provincial Assemblies on July 25, 2018, was my only second experience through a number of full-term and mid-term elections have been held in the politically chequered history of Pakistan which turns 71 on August 14, 2018, with the continued blessings of Almighty Allah. First one was the election held in 2013. Two earlier attempts in 1970 and in the 1990s had not been successful.
In 1970, when I reached the polling station in Model Town, Lahore to cast my vote, I was told by a PPP activist that it has already been cast, you better go home and rest. In one of the mid-term polls, I again went to cast my vote. After standing in a long line in the Model Boys High School Model Town, as I reached the table and asked for the chit, after checking the lists the polling staff on duty there told me that my name was in the women voters lists and I should go there and cast my vote there if I want to do so.
I moved on to two next tables from where I got ballot papers in white for the National Assembly and green for the Provincial Assembly after putting my left thumb impressions on the counterfoils in each case.
Coming back to the latest experience of 2018 general election, in which out of extraordinarily large number of political, religious parties and alliances registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan those contesting the polls could be counted on fingers, I went to cast my vote in Boys High School in Model Town, Lahore in a very orderly and peaceful as well as conducive atmosphere. I had left the mobile phone back home in strict compliance with the instructions of the Election Commission on this regard.
Army jawans and policemen on duty at the main gate after verification that I am a genuine voter allowed me in. I walked in and on reaching the point where polling booths were supposed to have been established, an Army jawan saw the chit I was carrying and simply directed me to go to which direction without asking any more question or even having a look at my original Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC).
Following the guidance so provided, I reached the polling booth where I was supposed to cast my vote. The time was around mid-day. Though people were coming in still there was no rush as such. Only one vote at the time was being allowed in the polling booth. I walked in, showed the chit I was carrying with my voter’s list number to the staff sitting in the first table. After checking the lists, they directed me to move on to next table where a middle-aged person asked me to sit on the bench for a while as I was sweating badly. After a while, he asked me to put my left thumb impression on a document and put an indelible ink mark on my right thumb.
I moved on to two next tables from where I got ballot papers in white for the National Assembly and green for the Provincial Assembly after putting my left thumb impressions on the counterfoils in each case. Carrying the stamp to put in front of my chosen candidate in both cases I moved behind the duly curtained table, cast my vote, folded both the ballot papers and put these in the two boxes placed in the middle of the room for NA and PA votes. All this was over in less than five minutes including my self-slowness.
This discussion was highly uncalled for and unnecessary as it was pointed out by the Army at the appropriate level that its role in the election is restricted to helping the Election Commission in the maintenance of law and order and ensuring peaceful, orderly and conducive atmosphere to the voters to cast their voters in a satisfying manner.
Coming out, I recalled that I had also cast my votes in 2013 election in the same polling station through the rooms were different at that time. The room was comparatively small than the one I just had been in any a number of people were sitting there in addition to the polling staff concerned waiting for their turn and thus unnecessarily crowding the little room. More importantly, there was no secrecy provided for casting the vote and couple of persons were hovering around the table to see how the voters were putting the stamp against which party’s candidates. I had asked the person to move away but on his still standing there I put the stamp on the ballot papers, put these in the boxes placed there and came out.
While for 2013 election, contesting political parties had set up their camps just across the road of the polling station thus causing the avoidable rush, this time on July 25, the political parties camps were set up at some distance from where the voters were walking. Even those coming on cars had to get down at a distance and send their cars away. The Army and police on duty only allowed cars carrying elderly and handicapped persons including women to come nearest the gate, drop them with their wheelchairs or walking sticks and drive away.
As I was coming out of the polling station compound, I noticed more and more people had started coming in as the polling time was scheduled to end at 6 p.m. and they wanted to cast their votes well in time. Quite appreciably, they all were coming in good numbers bracing hot and humid weather and notwithstanding the forecast about possible rain and thunderstorm. People were coming in and getting out of the main gate without causing any rush there in a smooth and comfortable manner telling the staff on duty there on being asked that they were not carrying mobile phones which were only allowed to the polling staff on duty.
Prior to the election date, for many days there was somewhat heated discussion ion political and other circles about the reported role of Pakistan Army in the election. This discussion was highly uncalled for and unnecessary as it was pointed out by the Army at the appropriate level that its role in the election is restricted to helping the Election Commission in the maintenance of law and order and ensuring peaceful, orderly and conducive atmosphere to the voters to cast their voters in a satisfying manner.
The turn out on the election day has been reported about 51 percent which is quite appreciable and commendable.
The Election Commission had quite rightly called upon the Pakistan Army for assistance in ensuring peace in and around the polling stations. Article 220 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan pertains to Executive authorities to assist Commission and reads “ It shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the Federation and in the provinces to assist the Commissioner and the Election Commission in the discharge of his or their functions”.
And, Pakistan Army strictly did according to the provisions of the Constitution as I and millions of voters across the country saw and noticed that junior ranking Army officials were deployed at the polling stations for ensuring the people cast their votes in a peaceful and conducive atmosphere and they were nowhere near the polling booths where votes were being cast. In all fairness, Pakistan Army, Rangers, Police and law enforcement agencies personnel deserve appreciation of all for ensuring a peaceful and orderly atmosphere throughout the day on the polling date and many people of all ages also appreciated them for their performance.
As I sat tuned afterward throughout the day till results started pouring in before tv set watching different tv channels coverage of the polling and casting of votes by the people, there was no report of incidents of any kind at the polling stations throughout the country and people continued casting their votes happily, peacefully and orderly without any unpleasant happening here, there or anywhere.
There was marked fairness, transparency and law and order on the whole during just held 2018 general election as compared to 2013 election about which a number of politicians had then and even afterward continued to point out rigging incidents saying that there had been massive rigging in the election to the National and Provincial Assemblies. The turn out on the election day has been reported about 51 percent which is quite appreciable and commendable.
He accepted his defeat quite gracefully forthwith saying that the people have voted for Imran Khan and he has no complaints against the election whatsoever.
This could still be higher further had the people started earlier to go to the polling stations without wasting time in waiting to go out in the afternoon hours. Polling time ended at 6 p.m. as scheduled and the voters inside the premises of the polling stations were allowed to cast their votes still. As the counting process started, during which only one polling agent of a contesting party/ candidate was allowed inside the room, some more people tried to be there and they were told to go out as they could not crowd the room unnecessarily.
And, pending further discussion later on about the winner and loser parties in the general election which I have intentionally avoided mentioning in this article, suffice to say that it would have been better for the contesting political and religious parties and alliances to lodged their complaints, if any, with the Election Commission first instead of rushing to the media. As per reports, no formal complaint or protest against the polling, counting etc has been lodged with the Election Commission even after a passage of more than two days.
Read more: Will General Elections 2018 be held on time?
The looser political and religious parties and alliance which have declined to accept the people’s verdict have in short insulted them in an uncalled for manner which is quite disappointing indeed, to say the least. Before ending this article, the scribe does want to pay tributes to the seasoned politician, former federal minister and senior ANP leader Ghulam Ahmad Bilaur who was in the run for the National Assembly from his hometown and province and lost to the PTI candidate.
He accepted his defeat quite gracefully forthwith saying that the people have voted for Imran Khan and he has no complaints against the election whatsoever. While appreciating his gesture, one only wishes that there should have been more instances of accepting the defeat at the hands of the opponents instead of raising the hue and cry against alleged rigging and irregularities without possessing ample proof to prove their allegations, please.
The writer is Lahore-based Freelance Journalist, Columnist, and retired Deputy Controller (News) Radio Pakistan Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.