I HAVE VOTED..HAVE YOU?

I woke up this morning early enough to go and fulfill my civic right and duty to vote. The polling stations were pretty quiet at 8:30 am, and even though I was excited to have cast my ballot, I somehow felt how unexciting and uneventful our elections are. Perhaps, unexciting or uneventful isn’t the word, but rather how easy it is to go in and vote. There are no threats to  life, no one is rigging your election, no one is stopping you from entering the polling station, no one stops me because I am a woman, I mean, absolutely NO hurdles in the way of me voting. I couldn’t help but be thankful for the freedom and ease by which I am able to go and vote, whereas, in many parts of the world, people would die to get this right. So, why is it that we have such low voter turn outs? It is as if the only way we will get out and vote is when things are absolutely at their worst.

Many people will make all sorts of excuses for not voting, one of which is the lack of time. Legally, in Canada you have the right to take time off to go and vote. Employers may frown upon it, but there is nothing they can do to stop you from doing it. Other parts of the world don’t even get that option. Some people will complain and say that not voting is a choice just as voting is, because I do not feel that any party or candidate well-represents my views. This is a valid and strong argument, but how does one get parties and candidates to be representatives of issues that matter to you? The way our system is set-up, not voting just means, “I can’t be bothered or I don’t really care about the democratic process at all”. A better way to voice your dissatisfaction at the inadequacy of the candidates is by going to the polling stations and spoiling your ballots. Imagine, a year that 100,000 people decide to spoil their ballots, you think the parties won’t take notice? They sure will!

Often times people say what is the point of voting, things don’t change. They will continue to complain and crib throughout the four years, however, they actually did not bother to get up on election day to go vote. How can you complain about a system you did not partake in? The reason things don’t change is because we, the public didn’t send a clear enough message demanding for things to change. That is what voting and protests are about. Protesting can maybe get you notice, but voting and then electing representatives gets them to pass legislation towards that end goal that matters to you.

People will also say, I don’t vote because I don’t know much about politics or that I am not political. Here is what I have to say to those people. If you are a person, a woman, a child, a man, a business owner, a parent, someone with a disability, a worker, someone who has been sick at least once in their lives, went to school, or a post-secondary student, or you pay taxes, a person of colour etc, you already are political. All the systems we have around us are a result of legislation that was passed in the parliament. The Parliament is where your elected officials sit and debate on the issues that matter to you. Did you know that it wasn’t until the early 60’s that medicare was introduced as a system in Canada? Guess who were the people behind the establishment of this system? It was 3 politicians namely Tommy Douglas,  John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson. That is just one glaring example of why politics matters and affects you.

Remember 2002 when the then Liberal Government lifted the tuition freeze on post-secondary education? I remember it well, that was my second year in University. Every year after that I saw a 30% increase in my tuition fees for the year. The Province also lost grant funding, meaning as a student the need for loans drastically increased. Remember the HST  and how that was introduced? We now pay HST on everything including groceries and basic necessity items.

There are different levels of government that deal with different types of legislation that affects all aspects of our lives. The simple truth is, you cannot escape politics, at least not in a democratic state. If we want better roads, better education, GMO food labeling, better opportunities, a better economy, a responsible nation that takes care of its environment, or if we want to be better protected at our workplace, being paid fair wages, or simply being able to walk with peace and the knowledge that we will be safe, we are already political. If we have an opinion on politics, even if it is that politicians suck, guess what, we are being political!

There are people who have given up their lives for the freedoms that you and I enjoy today. The very least we can do to honour their sacrifices is show up on Election day and vote! Pakistan just had its federal elections on May 11th, 2013. This election happened despite serious life threats to the public, to the candidates and to party-workers, yet there was a 65-70% voter turn out. Women were stopped from voting in the election, people were refused entering polling stations, their ballots were destroyed, mass rigging had taken place, violence had erupted, at least 20 people died on election day, but, that did not stop the people of Pakistan from coming out and voting. Despite the fact that the system itself was broken, people came out with the hopes to make change and have their voices heard. Even now, there are mass protests going against the Election commission, which failed to have a “fair and free” election.

I urge everyone to vote, but more specifically the Pakistani-Canadians of British Columbia to go out and cast your ballot, whether it be to choose a candidate/party of your choice or whether it be to go spoil your ballot. We all living abroad were so eager to vote in the Pakistan election because we wanted to see our beloved Pakistan prosper but let us not forget our adopted homeland. We have an equally strong responsibility to our beloved country of Canada to go and vote. If we want change, we must first change ourselves. Polls are open until 8 pm today, go out and make it count. Your voice matters, your issues matter, and who you choose matters. Voting gives you the right to go and question your elected representatives when they fail on their promises, but if you fail to vote, do you really think you have any right to complain or demand accountability? The system works because these politicians have been elected by you and are therefore accountable and answerable to you.

We are very blessed and lucky to be living in a country like Canada, where human life matters, where my voice matters, where I can walk into a polling station without fear of being shot because I decided to vote. Utilize the opportunity lest we lose the privilege like many other parts of the world, where people would willingly lose their lives just so their voices may be heard.

I have voted, have you?

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Why be so blue Pakistan?

The thing that irritates me more than the rigging/unfairness/whatever have you of the elections is the pessimistic, down right disrespectful attitude of some Pakistanis. They say it is realism, when it is a form of opportunism to lambaste any progress. I don’t care if Imran Khan did not make PM. Seeing PML-N come in power hurt me to my core. I was depressed beyond belief, spent my day in a state of disbelief, yet PTI making a strong opposition meant that the seeds of democracy have been sowed. Can we check our pessimist attitude at the door and perhaps work towards doing something better for the country?

I hate to say this, most of the negative attitude is coming from overseas Pakistanis. Why hate on the “jaahil qaum” when we actually packed our bags and left the country? Maybe, not getting the right to vote in the elections was the right thing for us, since we clearly are not mature enough to appreciate the process of democracy. We are so quick to throw in the towel and continue spewing hatred towards Pakistan and Pakistanis. More than the election results, this attitude depressed me. I felt, I am fighting a billion battles!!

I do not support Musharraf, Imran Khan did the right thing by not forming an alliance with Mushrraf, whom he vehemently opposed in 2008 and boycotted the 2008 election because we did not have an independent judiciary. Also, he supported the idea of democracy, not military regimes. So, had he gone back on his word, and made an alliance with a dictator, he would be a liar, an opportunist a sell-out, no different from the other politicians we have had for almost half a century. Forming an alliance with Tahir Ul Qadri would have achieved nothing. If he was so sincere about the corruption in the country, he should have fought against it at least a year ago, not a couple of months before elections and definitely should NOT have signed a back door deal with the leading party of the time, and the current elected government. That deal failed to achieve everything it set out to achieve, instead it caused further harm by keeping voter’s out of the elections process, who would have been crucial in an election of this magnitude!

People say that the poor and the rural population should not be allowed to vote? WHY THE HECK NOT? Democracy isn’t a cherry picking process. You do not get to choose who gets to vote and who does not get to vote. If the fear is that the poor will easily sell their votes for as little as 1000 Rs, then why don’t we put into place mechanism that teaches them to think? Promoting thought does not necessarily mean academic education, but opening up dialogue. How about organizing on a grass roots level, going village to village and explain the election process. We Must talk to them and explain the long-term effects of such short-shortsightedness. Tell them how the  1000 Rs. may seem like a great deal in the immediate future, but it  ends up costing an average person 10’s and 1000’s of rupees of lost future opportunity.

The process is long and tedious. I feel tired, and I haven’t even done any real work. I feel emotionally exhausted and drained. My heart weeps, because the real truth is that the “jaahils” are not the poor or the ones living in Pakistan, but “jaahils” are the ones like myself who are quick to abandon ship, point fingers, be pessimistic and wish terrible things on the people of Pakistan. Where are our hearts?

We need patience for change to happen. We cannot be complacent, we cannot just point fingers. Change begins within. We MUST change the way we think, act and behave. This is NOT the time to abandon Pakistan and Pakistanis, this is the time to join forces with them. I am happy that we had a 70% voter turn out. On average, even the best of democratic countries will see a 40-45% voter turn out. This in itself is a victory. I am happy we have a healthy opposition, which means, no idiot can just pass legislation simply because that is what he wants. A true democracy is one that allows dialogue and debate, but it must be within the confines of mutual respect!

There are lessons to be learnt here. If we decide to mobilize, we the people are a force to be reckoned with. We have real problems to deal with, and one of them is the inability of people to understand the democratic and voting process. We MUST first educate ourselves, and then look into our immediate circle and start there and work towards organizing on a grass roots level.

I will sleep with a heavy heart tonight, not because I didn’t get the NAYA Pakistan I wished for, but rather because as soon as the results came in that PML-N was the victorious party, we all resorted to good ol fashioned mud-slinging and absolute pessimism. And there is nothing more depressing than pessimism, especially from those who are living away from the realities of Pakistan.

Election 2013: Straight up truth!!!

Election 2013: The straight up truth!

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May 11th is here. The day we have all eagerly waited for a long time. Pakistan has swung between being a pseudo-democracy to being under military regime.

Fact: Almost all Pakistanis hate Zardari , but the truth is that the man has made history. He was a known thug, Mr. 10%, but despite that he not only became the president of the nation, but his elected government is the only one to have completed their entire tenure of 5 years without a military coup. On the surface that seems like a bad historical record, but the reality is, that is the step in the right direction. This is the FIRST TIME in Pakistan’s history that a democratically government is going to be handed over through the process of democracy, rather than a military coup.

Fact: Musharraf’s missteps and people’s dissatisfaction with his eleven year rule had led to the stirrings of a revolution. Add the mishandling of the Red Mosque, and the firing of the Chief Justice, this spelled out disastrous for the military dictator. Imran Khan and the lawyers were in the lead to fight for a free and just judicial system. The lawyers movement proved to be potent and led to the removal of Musharraf as President. Musharraf’s last few months brought shame to Pakistani Army, and the post Musharaf era led the Army to take a backseat for the first time in Pakistan’s history.

Fact: Army taking a step back from the political process proved to be a catalyst in the completion of Zardari’s 5 year regime of tyranny, corruption and looting the nation of all its resources.

Fact: Zardari’s tenure was the needed ingredient to push Pakistan and Pakistanis to the threshold of helplessness.  This stirred the nation enough and feeling helpless was no longer an option.

Fact: This proved to be the perfect environment for a Messiah to rise. The Phoenix, by the name of Imran Khan took the nation by a Tsunami. Youth, adults, elderly, and women, all said enough is enough and have become a force behind Khan.

Fact: Imran’s ideological stance for which he has been mocked for the past 17 years has appealed to the masses, so much so that they woke up early morning on May 11th, 2013 to go out and vote for change.

For a nation to be mobilized the way Pakistan has been in the past two years, and more so in the past few months all because of the words and leadership of one man says something about that man, and also about that nation.  The man has earned people’s respect through his record of honesty and accomplishing his goals. This proves that given the right set of conditions and the right leadership, Pakistan’s otherwise apathetic nation can be galvanized into a force to be reckoned with. This is the resilience of Pakistanis.

Fact: thousands and thousands of voters showed up to their polling stations to vote despite threats to their lives by the extremists. Despite bomb attacks in Peshawar, firing in Karachi, delays in allowing people to vote and stopping women from voting, people have not given up.

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Fact: Karachi has always been a forced MQM majority and despite all tactics being used to limit the people of Karachi from voting, Karachi is standing firm and refusing to let go. They are fighting for their right to vote.

 

 

Whether anyone believes it or not change has indeed come. This is probably the highest turn out of voters in the history of Pakistan (we will get the final numbers by tomorrow to call it fact). All of these are signs of a nation awaken. Irrespective of what the results are, the greatest feat for the people of Pakistanis is to have seen what they are capable of if they put their minds to it. This is a great example that we as a nation are not useless, hopeless or worthless. No matter what the results tomorrow Pakistan, a new Pakistan is definitely in the making. Realize the power that is you and never let anyone oppress you again. In my prayers, in my thoughts, in my heart forever and always Pakistan!!!

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APATHY IS NOT AN OPTION: WHY EVERY PAKISTANI MUST VOTE?

May 11th is upon us. Pakistani all over Pakistan MUST go out to vote. There are great threats to lives, and security, but a safe democratic system is the only hope for a better tomorrow. If we fail to exercise our right to vote and have our voices heard, then we lose the right to complain of the tyrants that come to rule us. For the first time in many years, the nation of Pakistan has been mobilized to this great extent. People of Pakistan are rising to say enough is enough! There have been mass rallies; people have taken to the street without concern for their safety only because they want a prosperous Pakistan. My only hope is that this momentum continues today when it really matters and people actually go out and vote. I know there will be some who will get deterred and not go out. This is a form of complacency and is being apathetic. Apathy is NOT an option!

Every vote counts. If you think what difference would one vote make? Remember, change starts from the self, if each and every person took responsibility for their actions, justice would prevail. Here is why apathy is NOT an option. By not voting, or by making light of the right to vote, you inadvertently accept the oppression that is around you. You become a part of the system of oppression. You accept that you have no responsibility to your nation, to your children, and to your own future.

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If you are a parent, you are to stand and lead by example. I remember being a child and eagerly waiting to be 18 so I could vote. The right to vote seemed very precious to me even at the tender age of 10. I may have not spent a long time of my living days in Pakistan, but for some reason I grew up with understanding the value of a vote. My grandparents were first generation immigrants to Pakistan. I grew up hearing of my maternal grandparents leaving everything behind in India, risking their lives, travelling to the now Pakistan on trains that were looted.  I remember distinctly my grandmother telling me of her journey to Pakistan. While she was travelling on the train with a new born, a bullet shot through the train compartments grazing her as she held onto her baby. I grew up being thankful for the blood our ancestors shed so that we could have a free Pakistan. Perhaps, growing up with that knowledge is what gave me my sense of responsibility to Pakistan. I do not feel a sense of entitlement to a nation that was given to me by our ancestors. I feel we are lucky to not have had to shed blood or make many sacrifices for this country. This country was a gift, it is a debt to our future generation and we owe them at least being responsible enough to go out and vote.

Today, Pakistan is burning. The same sacrifices that our ancestors made are being made by my fellow brothers and sisters in Pakistan. The decision is ours, do we want our kids to grow up feeling thankful that their parents made the sacrifices for their future, or do we want our children to become the victims of a system of oppression and give the ultimate sacrifice in the shape of their own life and blood? Every parent’s dream is a better life for their child than the one they had. Please mothers and fathers go out and give your children the gift of a secure future by voting today.

The past few months have been a whirlwind of emotions, activism, violence, mud-slinging, defamation and absolute chaos in Pakistan. I have had the honour of being a mentor to two campaign managers in Pakistan who are working during these elections. One of them is a campaign manager in the Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan. He explained to me the threat of security to one’s life in that region, yet every morning this man gets up and goes to campaign in a region that is fraught with violence. His motivation is the betterment of Pakistan and not relenting to the oppression of the extremists. Similarly, I spoke to the other campaign manager who is campaigning in Dera Ghazi Khan. Even though, unlike Pakhtunkhwa, she has been able to canvass and organize relatively safely in Punjab, her biggest concern was the threat to life on Election Day and getting people out to vote. Both these brave souls are a few examples of the people who are on the front lines, putting their lives in danger, all because they want a better future for themselves, their families and their children. We may fail to be active political volunteers, rallying people around us to vote, but the very least we can do for the betterment of Pakistan is to get out and vote. I am unfortunate like many overseas Pakistanis who are unable to vote during this election, but those of you who are living in Pakistan, you MUST vote!

At Jummah Khutbah at my Masjid today, the Imam spoke about the darkness that envelopes one’s heart, which allows us to continue sinning. I couldn’t help but relate it to apathy. Apathy is a form of a sin; the sin of not taking responsibility, the sin of not speaking up against oppression and falsehood. If apathy was an option in Islam, then our beloved Prophet Mohammed SAW would not have risen against the falsehood of the time. Him and His Companions (May Allah be pleased with them all) would not have risked their lives to spread the message of truth. Yes, he was divinely guided, and none of us can dare to compare to him, but he is the example we follow. Our love for Islam and our love for the Prophet SAW dictates we rise up against oppression. Sitting idly and crying against a system will never change the system. Being a working cog in the system, and being a voice within that system is what will bring change. We MUST not let extremists stop us from our rights to a good government, a responsible and just government.

Pakistan, please rise today and vote. Here is another reason why NOT VOTING IS NOT AN OPTION. For every vote that is not cast, it is an open opportunity for the corrupt to go and cast a false vote in YOUR name! This HAPPENS in Pakistan. Unlike, the Western countries, where such fixes are almost impossible to do, perhaps not voting could be considered an option, but it is definitely NOT an option in Pakistan. Think of the worst possible alternate to the leader you would like to see in power and think of him as the elected official to represent you for the next five years, all because you could not be motivated enough to go out and vote.  Do not let your precious vote go to waste by those who would misuse it. Remember, when you don’t vote, you leave the option for someone else to vote in your name and allow someone else to falsely speak on your behalf.  Vote for Peace, vote for justice, vote for a Naya Pakistan!

Enough is enough! You must take the reign of your future in your hands and vote today. May Allah protect each and every one of you and may all of Pakistan defeat the oppressors who are responsible for hunger, for poverty, and for the loss of precious lives. May tomorrow bring a new beginning for all of Pakistan ameen.

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