It is election morning, and I am unsure who to vote for. The electable candidates belong to parties that either represent the status quo, or the new face of compromised politics. I am not alone in these muddied, murky waters; several of my contemporaries feel the same way. It has been a baffling, frustrating and substandard election season. None of that will stop me from voting though. And it should not stop you either. Initially, I thought I would vote for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), as I did in 2013. Back then, the party was old, but the language and the premise was new. There was momentum, the air sizzled with the promise of change. It emerged in 2013 as the second party with the most number of popular votes, and the third party with the most number of seats, a massive achievement by any definition. In the following few years it worked hard to improve the situation in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province along a variety of metrics and vertices, with varied success and lacklustre public relations. Despite the work accomplished, the focus of the party remained lambasting and tearing down the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) at any opportunity, through a combination of fiery rhetoric, rallies, protests and sit-ins. As the 2018 season loomed, and it became evident that PTI would not win with the same strategy it deployed in 2013, it began pandering to the voter banks, either in the form of recruiting corrupt politicians from rival parties into its ranks, or by bowing to the fervent demands of the religious right in order to score the radicalized vote. Over this election season, the PTI slowly transitioned into the beast it claimed to abhor. Then I thought, I would vote for the PML-N. Despite the dynastic rot that infects the party, and the legacy of horrid decision-making, at least they are half-decent administrators in my constituency. I reasoned that maybe it is a good idea to allow one party to continue for several cycles, and see if they can bring about civil and civic change that is the exclusive domain of academic papers and heated discussions in Pakistan. Perhaps most importantly, despite my inane distrust of the Sharif family and my disdain for their autocratic governance, I admired the father and daughter for standing up to the establishment, and defiantly returning despite being convicted and sentenced. However, none of this could take away from the fact that the PML-N has been in government for the last 28 of 37 years, at least in the Punjab, and despite some debatable success, has failed to provide the basics. You don’t need to believe me, the fact that yesterday, two days before the elections, Shahbaz Sharif promised “basic amenities if elected to power” shows that they are acutely aware of their own failings. They may cry foul at the timing of these verdicts, and there may be some truth to that. But the timing also reveals that the party in power did not prosecute one of its own during all five year of its government. The PTI will not get my vote on the basis of merit, but neither will the PML-N The PTI will not get my vote on the basis of merit, but neither will the PML-N. I then thought of the rise of the far right. Pakistan has had a healthy and documented history of moderate political Islam. Despite the many reservations I have with the leaders of both Jamaat-e-Islami, and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, they are politicians in the strict sense of the word. More recently, and especially since the Faizabad fiasco, extreme religious viewpoints masquerading as politics seem to have taken centre stage. I thought, maybe I should randomly vote for PTI or PML-N, not as a vote for those parties, but as a vote to counter another cast for the far right. It is not optimal, and it is not ideal, but it is one path that makes sense. Finally, I thought that perhaps the best thing to do would be to vote for independent candidates, or candidates from cult favourites, such as the Awami Worker’s Party, electability be damned. I am still confused. I am wrenchingly exasperated with the choices. And I am disappointed that this is all we have on offer. None of that will stop me from voting though. And it should not stop you either. Vote today. Even if you do not like the candidates, or feel that your vote will not amount to much, or that nothing will really change, you must vote. Vote for your favourite party, or candidate, or policies. Vote for change, or the status quo. Vote for the establishment, or against it. Vote for independents, or underdogs. It does not matter. What matters is that you vote. You must go and exercise this great democratic right of informed citizens. Vote, or die! The author serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad, is a freelance journalist, and holds a bachelor and master’s degree in strategic communications from Ithaca College, NY. He can be reached via email@example.com and tweets @zeesalahuddin Published in Daily Times, July 25th 2018.