“I have never seen so much enthusiasm and happiness in people’s eyes when they cast their vote”: reports from the historical Pakistan elections

This weekend Pakistan went to the polls to hand over power, for the first time in the country’s history, from one civilian government to another. Mohammed Ahmed considers the change that Pakistan needs and explores how the nation has dealt with such a historic event

Voters queue up outside a polling station in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo by Naj Sakib

Voters queue up outside a polling station in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo by Naj Sakib

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan went to the polls on 11 May in what has been called one of the most historic elections in the country’s 65 years of independence.

A nation that has an entangled history of military rule has served its first full term civilian government headed by the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, President Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistan’s economy is near collapse and frequent bombings by a number of internal terrorism groups, namely the Taliban, have torn up the country. With American drones flying over the Northwest Province, daily power cuts, high unemployment and rising inflation, change is what seems to be needed at this moment, more than ever.

“It’s up to you to change the face of the country”; “The people of Pakistan are awake and change has already begun,” were among the many slogans originating from Pakistan on social media sites.

Several main contenders have been at the forefront of the build-up to the elections. The fact that the ex-cricket premier Imran Khan posed as a strong candidate for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party particularly changed the political face for many, both within the country and abroad.

“We (the youth) have never felt important in our country’s politics, we never felt we had a voice, but these elections have proven to ignite a flame within us and get involved. Imran Khan has connected with us on so many levels and given us a voice,” said Shabeen Hussain, a voter from the city of Jhelum, Punjab.

“The people of Pakistan need a change. We are an extremely talented and resourceful nation that has been strangled by corrupt leaders for too long. It’s up to us to bring this change now,” said Saba Javaid, a bio-medical scientist living in London. “And change is not still to come, it’s already come and people like me are evidence for it.”

Pakistanis wait to cast their votes. Photo by Naj Sakib

Pakistanis wait to cast their votes. Photo by Naj Sakib

Voting began nationwide at 8am local time with voters queuing up hours before to miss the intensity of the afternoon heat. But there were numerous polling stations that did not receive ballot boxes well into the day.

Naj Sakib from Karachi volunteered at his local station as a polling agent in an upper class area of the city for more than 20 hours. He said: “The polls were supposed to start at 8am but we only received our ballot boxes at 3.15pm, but everybody was thrilled to vote for PTI (Imran Khan).

“People were anxiously waiting to vote for Imran Khan’s party since 7am but they waited and they waited for more than six hours in scorching heat just to vote. Men and women from the age of 18-80 waited to vote for the New Pakistan. I have never seen so much enthusiasm and happiness in people’s eyes when they cast their vote.”

Sakib has since confirmed that Imran Khan’s PTI party received more than 95% of the vote at this particular polling station.

As vote counting came to an end, the results reflected substantially different outcomes to what the voices of masses seemed to be proclaiming. Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League–N seemed to take a vast majority of seats with the PTI coming second and the current regime, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), coming closely behind.

With no official declaration of a winner, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, 63, seems set to secure a majority in the parliament and form the next government of Pakistan for a third time.

The election saw a huge turnout, with some sources claiming nearly 60%, but it was stained with violence. Bombings around the country killed 18 and injured more than 50.

A civilian casts his vote. Photo by Naj Sakib

A civilian casts his vote. Photo by Naj Sakib

Videos have surfaced on YouTube showing people being harassed to change their votes and fake votes being placed in polling stations. The violence came amid claims that vote rigging had taken place and protesters demanding a re-election; the Electoral Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has formed 14 election tribunals to try rigging cases across the country with the possibility of a re-election in these constituencies.

People across the world have protested outside Pakistani embassies demanding re-elections and an end to fraudulent voting. More than 3000 protestors planned to station themselves outside the Pakistani Embassy in London earlier today (13 May).

The result is yet to be seen.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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