My voting experience today.
Under slept, tired and highly motivated, my daughter and I drove off to Rawalpindi to vote this morning. I knew the drive would take an hour. Weather is hot and humid these days, so we wanted to be there much earlier. But I had to bathe and change my eighty-three-year-old mother, as the helper wasn’t coming today, due to her own voting. In fact towards the end of the bathing session half-way through the changing, I had to call Waliya, as I found standing in that humid wash room difficult; she came to complete dressing her up.
My friends had called up last night, I hadn’t been able to sleep till past three thirty last night. Now, I wondered how I’d manage standing in the humidity for the voting process!
So, naturally it was 11.00 am by the time we reached the polling station. It was the same one, where we had gone last time. Elections and Life Dichotomies . The street was dirty and narrow as ever, but the air of elections in the air was great. People were patiently walking towards it and there was peace and determination in the air. Finding the place had been difficult, (you forget a place after five years!) We checked our phones, sent sms to 8300 and confirmed that our polling station was located in Ali Trust School, in Dhok Chaudhrian, D Block; NA 59, PP 13. It was (Near Bahria Town, Safari Villas, next to the famous ‘car chowk.’)
The army personnel were at the entrance with their rifles and guns, making us feel very secure. The staff was welcoming and very accommodating. As I went to stand at the end of the ladies line, and wished the burqa-clad young girl before me, she showed me a chit and asked,
‘do you have it?’
I was blank.
She pointed towards the entrance saying ‘you’ll have to go out again and get it.’
So, I collected Waliya who had gone to the car to place our mobile phones there, (we had to leave these in the car as it is against the law to keep it with you.) So, we walked over to the authorized place where there was a gentleman at a desk, who would find out details through his phone about our voting number to verify the code and CNIC number. All the details of my voting number and polling station allocation were verified here and we received our chits. This was done within a few minutes. Then we hurriedly we walked back. Naturally, now our place was taken up by at least fifteen other ladies!
I waved at the young girl who had told me about the chit. She waved back. Everyone was patiently standing in the open sunlit area of the school. It was the same place as last time. Now, it was quite presentable. All spruced up. Nicely painted, with verses of Iqbal painted over the off-white walls. Suddenly, someone came to ask about our voting number, she took us way ahead, towards another room.
Wow! That felt good.
Suddenly, we were standing in the shade of the veranda. The other ladies too were asked to move forward towards another room. So, now we were closer to the ‘destination’ or vote casting room. The heat was bad, but cold water was provided nearby. I had brought my bottle of lemonade which I’d sip every little while. We all smiled at each other, and wondered how long it would take. We watched with amusement as a woman nearby lost her temper and was angry with those around her. It turned out, she had already voted, but hated being asked to leave. She was saying, ‘I’ll leave when I choose to leave!’ At least that is what I was told was the problem!
I was reminded of something Major Zafar had mentioned to me many years ago. When, I asked him, ‘What is your advice to a person going on Haj?’ He answered, ‘Be patient, forgive everyone and remember the objective.’ I realized this is the best advice while going for voting in Pakistan also!
We kept standing there for over an hour, almost without budging. I said, ‘Hey this is again a repeat of last time!’ But the men’s lines were so long and they were standing in the sun mostly. I had seen the line going way out of the station also. The army men were seen everywhere, with their ammunition.
So, again I went over into the men’s section to speak to the man in charge. Again, the men courteously, moved aside to make room for me. His name was Anwar, so I went up to him. He said, ‘I have already made a change by accommodating ladies so they won’t stand in the sun. I cannot do more than this.’ I requested him to find some way to make the process as quick as possible. He promised to do whatever he can. He told me that 1700 women are registered at this polling station, so it won’t take very long. I agreed.
So, I went back. That girl in the burqa was in front of me again now, she offered to let me go before her, I said, ‘nothing doing! It must be so much hotter for you, so please do go ahead. Then I heard that a lady had been there since 8,00 am and somehow she was standing behind me, so we asked her to go before us.
So, in this way, we all accommodated others.
There were one lady whose brother had died today, and another who had lost a child. Yet, they were here to vote! We all agreed to let these ladies go first. Meanwhile, Waliya got me some cold water so I could splash it over my face and arms, so I’d cool down and not faint.
Finally, our turns came. As we were going through the process, I could see my picture was also in their list as were those of others. The women conscientiously checked the CNIC numbers and tallied them with their own data. The mark was made on thumb and the finger prints placed in relevant places. I heard Waliya offer an elderly lady her place, as I walked behind the shielded place where I could actually cast my vote.
There was one white paper and one green one, to be placed in one white box and one green box. It turned out we were voting for the National and Provincial Assemblies! This is what happens when you don’t follow the local news regularly.
Anyhow, soon we were out, and driving back on the almost empty highway. Feeling really pleased that we had done our bit at least.
So, here are some points for us voters:
- Next time go to the Election Commission office well in time, to get my polling station’s location changed to one nearer to my home.
Firstly, I want to applaud the management for holding very peaceful elections. The staff was excellent and very supportive and helpful. The process, could be quicker perhaps?
Here are some points for the management:
- The desk for that ‘chit’ with details could be placed within the premises of the polling station, so we could get it as we entered the gate.
- Computerization of the data of the voters, instead of being manual, so the work could get done quicker. The lady had to look through the data to find one’s number.
- The steps need to be done quicker. It did take much more than three minutes per person in the room. It should be done within a minute or so.
- More comfortable environment for the voters standing outside. For instance a shade or ‘shamiyana’ could have been put up for those men or women standing outside.
- Some personnel kept outside to take care of the cars, if possible?
Otherwise, I’d say, a big ‘hats off’ to the management of the Election commission who definitely did a great job today.
Now, I pray that the result is taken with grace and tolerance.
Things are definitely improving. We are blessed to have the voting process rolling in our country.