ECP ‘can delay polls in pockets’ Says ballot papers printing has already started

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ECP

Saifullah Ansar

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is mulling over the prospects of delaying polls for some constituencies if high courts allow independent candidates to change their electoral symbols, citing people familiar with the matter a private news channel reported.

Pakistan’s general elections have already been delayed by months, with some political actors demanding further postponements citing various reasons. However, the Supreme Court has directed officials to ensure polls take place on February 8.

In a meeting headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, the issue of appeals before high courts seeking changes in symbols was put forward, to which it was suggested that the dates could be amended for certain constituencies, the people said.

Also, in a statement, the election commission said that the process of printing ballot papers for general polls has started. “It began a day earlier,” the statement noted. The body will be printing hundreds of thousands of ballot papers for the elections, and if there are changes, they could delay the entire schedule.

The development comes after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders moved the Peshawar High Court (PHC) against the allotment of their symbols, stating that the election commission was in violation of the law.

However, the high court dismissed the petitions of the PTI leaders, including Shehryar Afridi, Asif Khan, Kamran Bangash, and Aftab Alam, who are contesting the elections as independent candidates following their party losing the ‘bat’ symbol.

Electoral symbols — unique pictorial identifiers — are handed out by the ECP to political parties and candidates. Parties usually have long-standing symbols, which, for the PTI, was the cricket bat, referencing party founder Imran Khan being a celebrated former captain of the national cricket team.

The symbols appear on ballot papers, with voters able to put a stamp on their symbol of choice. The ballot paper also has names, but over 40% of Pakistan’s 241 million population are illiterate, making the pictures extra important for recognition.

A majority of Pakistan’s constituencies are in rural areas where the literacy rate is around 50%, according to the economic survey of 2022-23.

Pakistan’s election process involves thousands of candidates and dozens of political parties and symbols. A single ballot paper has a long list of options for voters.

A total of 150 symbols have been assigned to political parties and another 174 will be given to independent candidates for this election.