This year, on the 11th of May, I voted. As a Pakistani citizen, I voted for the first time in my life.
My polling station was a quick five minute drive from my house in the Cantonment area in Lahore. It was a hot, mildly breezy morning, but I was jumpy. The weeks leading up to voting day were super-charged, electric, and yet almost fragile, almost as if anything could happen at any given time. Political parties had been campaigning in full swing and the local television channels, local newspapers, local radio stations and even social media sites were fired up: “change,” “democracy,” and “revolution” were on everyone’s lips in the days leading up to the 11th.
It was, after all, a historic time for the young country: the elections this year would mark the first time in Pakistan’s history that a civilian government would complete its full term, handing power to another in democratic elections.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The polling station was a large public school. Families – primarily women – lined up outside airy classrooms, as old ceiling fans whizzed and wheezed in the excited heat of the morning. Sons and husbands stood in small clusters, waiting for their mothers and wives to stamp their ballot papers, while little children ran about the schoolyard like a haze of animated dots.
“I don’t even have to ask you who you’re voting for,” an elderly woman, standing in line with me, had said slyly. She was implying Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf – the handsome, cricketer-cum-politician who had immense youth support, as depicted by the mass youth turnout at his recent rallies. “I’m voting for him too you know,” she said, smiling. She was a slim, hard-faced woman, who took it upon herself to direct confused first-time voters to the right line. She was particularly worried about the senior citizens; plenty had shown up at our polling station, walking slowly, holding onto family members for support as they made it across the expanse of the parking lot to the classrooms.
“I’m 62-years-old,” the woman had said, “I’m voting for the first time in my life. I couldn’t not come out and vote today, how could I? Things have to change here.”
I’d felt the same way. After an hour-long wait in line, I finally made it to the bespectacled, middle-aged polling agent. She was hunched over her desk, stamping ballot papers, barely slowing her pace, even to catch her breath. For a first-time voter, the voting process can be an exceedingly unnerving, yet exciting time. There are questions and concerns, and yet, there’s this unmistakable feeling of hope: as if the country’s destiny truly lies in your hands. Just yours. And suddenly, in the midst of it all, you realize how significant your role in society is; that you count, that your participation in the future of your nation really and truly does count.