Polls may delay due to symbol issues: ECP

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ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has warned that the polls may have to be delayed if orders keep coming for changing the election symbols already allocated to candidates.

Without naming any court, the ECP in a statement pointed out that election symbols were being changed through various forums.

Following the allotment of election symbols, the ECP said it had already ordered the printing of ballot papers to the three printing corporations and the printing work had started a day before.

“If the process of changing the election symbols continues in the same way, there is a fear of election delay, because the ballot papers will have to be reprinted for which time is already limited and on the other hand, the special paper available for the ballot papers will also be lost,” it reasoned.

The commission noted over 33 per cent increase in the number of candidates for the upcoming general elections, as a total of 18,059 are in the run as compared to 11,700 candidates who contested the 2018 polls.

In the 2018 elections, 800-tonne paper was used for printing 220 million ballot papers, while this time the estimate is 2,070-tonne paper for printing of 260m ballot papers particularly after the update of electoral rolls in the backdrop of the delimitation of constituencies.

While the ECP is dealing with this situation, it has repeatedly issued instructions to relevant officials that election symbols should not be changed once the printing had started. However, the statement added, it was also being considered that if the trend of changing the election symbols did not stop, there would be no other option but to postpone the elections in such constituencies.

The ECP earlier barred district returning officers (DROs) and returning officers (ROs) from changing election symbols allocated to electoral candidates for the upcoming elections.

According to ECP spokesman Syed Nadeem Haider, the ECP directed the provincial election commissioners, DROs and ROs to avoid changing election symbols at this stage, and to seek its approval if a change was essentially required.

The directive came just a day after the PPP had raised serious concern over denial of the party election symbol (arrow) to its ticket holders in Punjab and placing them in the category of independent candidates.

Senator Taj Haider, official in charge of PPP’s central election cell, in a letter written to the chief election Commissioner had pointed out that under Section 66 of the Elections Act, 2017, “a declaration before the RO about his affiliation with a particular political party, if any, along with a certificate from the political party showing that he is that party’s candidate from that constituency was the only and the final requirement for ‘seeking allotment of a prescribed symbol’”.

“There is no ambiguity in this Section of the Elections Act, 2017 and it should be followed in letter and spirit,” the letter said. “… the whole system of our constitutional democracy is built around the basic structure of political parties. Accepted that citizens have the option of contesting elections as independent candidates but, we have repeatedly experienced that the presence of independents in an elected house does open an unfortunate window for horse trading and exerting pressures on the elected independents,” it read.

The letter said independent candidates were often elected by taking advantage of ‘parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices’ fault lines among the citizens.

“Under Article 33 of our constitution, it is the duty of the state to discourage such and similar such prejudices. Instead citizens should be encouraged to vote on the performance, policies and manifestos of political parties. Pushing valid candidates who are affiliated to a party and also submit required documents before ROs at the time of seeking a prescribed symbol, outside the fold of that party and into the category of independents runs contrary to the provisions of Article 33 and the necessary and sufficient requirements of Section 66 of the Elections Act, 2017,” it said.

PPP Vice President Senator Sherry Rehman, in a post on X (formerly Twitter), named some of the candidates denied the symbol of arrow in Punjab, along with the symbols allocated to them.

According to the PPP, the candidates included Sardar Zulfiqar Ali Khan Dullah from NA-58 Chakwal, Hasan Sardar from NA-59 Chakwal, Chaudhry Atif Rafique from NA-122 Lahore, Chaudhry Naushad from PP-20 Chakwal, Raja Amjad Noon from PP-21 Chakwal, Mujahid Islam from PP-119 Toba Tek Singh and Muhammad Fayyaz from PP-163 Lahore; some of whom have got relief on court orders.

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