I flew to Karachi on Friday morning to cast my vote.
This, in itself, may not be such a big deal to you, but it is to me and I'll explain why. I've been eligible to vote for a dozen years (and you can stop doing the math right-about-now), but this was my first voting experience. A Zia-era baby, I turned 18 a year or so after President Musharraf ascended to the proverbial throne of the Islamic Republic. Five years ago, when President Zardari was (somehow) elected, I was wisely in another corner of the world watching the show from the sideline glad that I was not part of this stupidity. This year, was the first opportunity that I had to actually stamp on the ballot paper, however more importantly this was the only year in my life that I've actually been interested in voting. Despite an avid interest in politics, a deep-rooted apathy and the fact that no matter which-way-I-voted it was either tweedle-dee or tweedle-dum prevented me from really bothering to make the effort to register myself as part of a voting populace. Proof of this, for example, is that despite working with you for the better part of a year I did not bother to fill in the form that confirmed my preferred polling station to be Islamabad, where I live and work rather than Karachi, a city I moved out of twelve years ago.
Which brings me to the second reason why this was a big deal. I took time off work, booked a flight and headed down to a city I hate (truly, only very significant reasons can voluntarily drag me to Karachi) in order to exercise my constitutional right. I spent time, effort and energy not to mention the money, much unlike many people out there who actually sold their vote to the highest bidder. I did this because somewhere down the line I began to believe that this vote that I was casting was both my right, as a citizen of this country as well as my responsibility. Strange, I know, but I was suffering under the happy-delusion that my vote mattered, my voice needed to be heard and somebody out there cared who I thought needed to be elected.
Two days later I have returned to Islamabad with an inky thumb and a very-heavy heart.
And as I look at this garish black line etched with indelible link right below my thumb-nail, I feel angry, disillusioned and above all cheated. You see, I don't mind if my candidate loses because that's the way the vote swings. That is the democratic way, after all. I do, however, detest knowing that there really was nothing I could have done to change what seems to have been a foregone conclusion. Truth is, the way that this election has turned out, I should have spared myself the trouble and sat tight in Islamabad watching the drama unfold. What hurts the most, I think, is that there was a wave that had been created. A wave of political awareness, desire to make a difference and patriotism. I was riding this wave, as were very-many others in the same boat as I. The blatant election-rigging, and your refusal to take serious - and immediate - action against the obvious perpetrators have completely dashed this wave to pieces.
So here is the deal. If you truly are an institution who believes in its own mandate of conducting 'fair, free and transparent elections' in Pakistan you will wake up, take notice and take immediate measures to address the rigging allegations. You will conduct re-elections as required in as many districts as you have proof. You will disqualify candidates who are proved to be at fault from ever taking political office in the Islamic Republic. You will admit your own culpability and request assistance from the army (as required) to maintain law and order, and keep the politicians on a leash. You will closely supervise the re-elections and announce a free, fair and impartial result that is acceptable to all.
Because if you don't (and it's very likely that you won't), you will have totally destroyed the momentum that it has taken years to build. And frankly, people like me will think many-many times before venturing out to participate in this democractic sham.
Please don't make my proud-inky-thumb feel ashamed and cheated. I, and every other genuine Pakistani voter, deserves the right for their vote to be taken seriously. We depend on you to ensure that we have this right both now, and in the future.