Urbanites show their faith in democracy

Pakistanis on Saturday defied terrorist threats to turn up in large numbers across the country to exercise their franchise in the first ever elections to be held under civilian watch.

Though no official figure was provided till late in the night on the turnout, keen watchers of the country’s oft-interrupted democratic project insist they have not seen such across-the-board enthusiasm for polls ever before.

By all accounts, it was the turnout in cities that was impressive as members of Pakistan’s urban elite — who have traditionally remained indifferent to elections — lined up outside polling stations to cast their votes.

Queues

In many areas, they waited for hours in the sun for their turn. And, in some cases where they could not vote in the morning because of long queues or delays caused due to mismanagement, they returned in the afternoon.

This was particularly the case in Karachi’s NA 250 where polling was delayed for hours; resulting in the Election Commission deciding to extend voting time by three hours.

Undeterred, many voters braved the heat to wait almost the entire day for their turn.

If the general voter turnout was impressive, what was even more encouraging for those who have remained faithful to democracy against all odds was the participation of women. In many places, the women’s queues were longer than their male counterparts and their enthusiasm was palpable.

In urban centres, there were separate polling booths set up for women. This segregation has not always drawn the desired results. In 2008, not a single vote was cast at 564 of the 28,800 women’s polling stations in Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa.

Though there was a visible increase in women’s participation, there were reports from some areas of Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa and the tribal areas of women being barred from voting. But this was not the general pattern.

Contrast

If the women of Miranshah – the main town of the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan – were stopped from voting, neighbouring South Waziristan presented a picture in contrast.

According to an AFP report from Miranshah, tribesmen were informed through mosque loudspeakers in the morning that women would not be allowed to leave their homes to vote.

In some areas of Buner, too, elders unanimously decided not to allow women to vote and this decision was endorsed by political parties.

However, in South Waziristan – another tribal agency where terrorists have their hideouts and drone attacks are commonplace – a Taliban shura decided to let women vote provided proper ‘purdah’ arrangements were made at the polling stations.