A Big Win for Pakistan and Its People
By Pervaiz Lodhie
Monday, February 18th, was not only a historic day for Pakistan but a most memorable one for me. The Government of Pakistan had invited me to be an International Election Observer (IEO) from the USA. As a Pakistani American it was an honor for me and I readily accepted the offer even though there was a constant warning from friends and family in both the USA and Pakistan to avoid travel to Karachi.
Tensions were high and the city was clearly bracing for a potentially troublesome day.
The Government of Pakistan was very helpful in getting me the necessary IEO badge and also provided me literature with information related to voting procedures, election personnel and their responsibilities, locations of polling booths in Karachi. The Provincial Election Commissioner Sindh Qamar-uz-Zaman arranged for my IEC identification badge and the Home Secretary Sindh Arif Ahmed Khan facilitated my visit to the polling stations that I wanted to visit. He also made security arrangement for my travel.
I was able to observe polling activity in 10 polling stations in various ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous’ areas of Karachi.
The traffic on the streets was light all day. The polling stations I visited were:
No.65 in Malir-Quaidabad,
No.6 in Guru Mandir-Jamshed Rd,
No.158 & No.165 in Karsaz-Faisel Base area,
No.90, No 98 & No.99 in PECHS,
No.84 in Clifton
No.113 & 114 in Defense Authority Area
No.97 in Sindhi Muslim Housing Society
In every polling station, I observed exactly the same fully transparent and accountable voting process. The process was fool proof: It was not possible to cast bogus votes and rigging appeared quite out of question. Each voter had voter ID detail card prepared by voter camps outside the polling stations. The polling station had two voting rooms for men and two for women. Two major improvements were made by the Election Commission. The first was the use of the semi-transparent white plastic voting boxes. The boxes for National Assembly were clearly identifiable by a green lid while the Provincial Assembly boxes had a white lid. I saw that all lids and boxes were sealed with 2 and 4 plastic sealing ties that were individually serialized and recorded with each box.
The second major improvement that made voting more acceptable and fair to all parties was the presence of polling agents inside each polling room. The Government Polling Officer and the Political Parties Polling Agents inside each polling room were given the exact printed official voter list for that polling station. The Polling Officer in each room called out aloud the name and ID number of each voter after verifying the name and voter ID in his list to all the political parties’ polling agents. The agents checked the name and ID of the voter in their lists and only after they had checked and confirmed, the voter was allowed to get his National Assembly and Provincial Assembly vote and stamp.
Each voter used the private booth in the polling room to complete his choice and place his vote in the appropriate box in clear view of the polling agents. I spoke with almost all polling agents in the stations I visited. All agents, including men and women, expressed 100% trust in the voting procedures and appeared visibly satisfied with the voting accuracy.
The Pakistan Election Commission must be congratulated to have prepared and carried out such an impossible task in such a short time.
I only have couple of suggestions for the Pakistan Election Commission for future elections. First, it would be a good feeling for a voter to get a peel off sticker to place on his/her shirt after casting the vote. The sticker can spell out a short note of triumph like “I Voted,” etc. The other suggestion is that the complete national voter list be computerized to eliminate possible multiple duplication of a person’s name under different addresses and IDs. This possibly happens when people change their residence and get a new ID without canceling the old ID.
People of Pakistan must be congratulated for participating in Election 2008 in such a peaceful and orderly manner.