Many Pakistani voters ask Musharraf to quit, call politicians frauds

February 22nd, 2008 - 2:58 pm ICT by admin  

By Devirupa Mitra
Islamabad, Feb 22 (IANS) “Everybody is a fraud” is one of several slogans angry Pakistani voters scribbled on their ballot papers as they got their chance to speak out against their political masters during elections to the country’s top legislative bodies Feb 18. Polling agents said a significant number of votes were found invalid during the counting - some of them just emblazoned with angry sayings. “It seems that the ballot papers had been deliberately damaged. Maybe they thought that since their votes would not count, they could just express their feelings,” said a polling agent for an opposition party in Rawalpindi.

About 46 percent of the Pakistan’s 81 million-strong electorate cast their votes to elect their representatives to the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies.

A senior official of the Election Commission of Pakistan said that the tally of invalid or rejected votes would be known only after the official results. Invalid votes and postal ballots were still being recounted.

But he said the proportion of invalid votes had been traditionally low in Pakistan, usually in a single digit percentage point out of the total votes polled.

“There are several reasons why we reject a ballot. Sometimes, the presiding officer would have failed to put his initials on the back of the ballots. Sometimes, the stamp is smudged and is not entirely in a single column,” he said, adding that rural areas had a higher proportion of rejected votes.

But in the majority of invalid votes this time the voter stamped on more than one candidate’s name. “The stamping of votes twice or more than a single time has been the major reason for votes getting invalid, with several voters getting nervous or indecisive at the booth,” he said.

Perhaps indicating the average voters’ antipathy to the previous ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid), polling agents noted that several invalid votes had the stamp put twice, but never on a candidate of the ruling party. “We found several papers with stamps on both ’sher’ (tiger) and ‘teer’ (arrow),” said a polling agent. The tiger is the election symbol of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and arrow belongs to the Pakistan People’s Party. “It seemed deliberately done, as the stamps fell cleanly into the columns,” he said.

Besides, voters used more imaginative ways to express their feelings. “The stamp was put all over the paper and then on the top was written, ’sab log fraud hai’ (everybody is a fraud),” said a polling agent for the PML (N) in Islamabad.

Then, in another paper, polling agents found an even starker line - “Politicians are dogs”.

“Here again, there was no stamp on any candidate,” he said.

In another polling station in Rawalpindi’s NA-56, a political agent remembered seeing a ballot paper emblazoned with the words, “Go Musharraf, Go”. No candidate had been stamped on the paper. “Go Musharraf, Go” had been the catch phrase of the lawyers’ movement, which began with the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary in March 2007.

Incidentally, the stamp used by Pakistani voters “was so designed that we can easily identify visually if the stamp is beyond its designated area,” he said.

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