Poll supervisory body says lax laws embolden non-serious runners.
The rapidly growing number of political parties registered with the premier poll supervisory body has once again caused shortage of election symbols. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had updated the logos before the 2013 general elections, but the number of registered political parties has again exceeded the quantity of approved emblems.
New registrations in the past two years have raised the number of political parties to 307, and after the last update the quantity of available symbols stands at 171.
The ECP is in a quandary: how will it match the upsurge in parties with new logos, an exercise that demands creativity to ensure that the voters are able to discern all the symbols.
Before the last general elections, the number of registered parties stood at 227. Short of symbols, the electoral body sent a summary to the then president Asif Ali Zardari, who approved around two dozen new logos proposed by the ECP. The polling body laments that lax laws make it easy for anyone to register a political party. “Most of the groups are one-man parties. Once registered, a party cannot be struck off the list – unless it is officially banned,” an ECP official told The Express Tribune.
Because of the upcoming local government elections, the ECP has accepted dozens of new applications in the recent months. Two and a half years after the last elections, the electoral body has again sent a summary to President Mamnoon Hussain for getting some 50 new emblems approved.
Power of the symbol
Considering the low literacy rate in the country, political parties attach a lot of importance to having an election symbol – and one that stands out. Hardly any voter reads manifestos of political parties. Grand logos are sometimes employed to persuade the undecided or uninformed voters.
Emblems are printed next to the candidates’ names on the ballot papers. Those who cannot read, recognise their preferred candidates with the help of the symbols. Occasionally, apparent similarity between two logos is used as a gimmick to confuse the voters for seizing the vote bank of a rival party.
In an earlier by-election an independent candidate ran with the ‘cat’ as his symbol. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) later complained that many voters could not differentiate between the ‘cat’ and the ‘tiger’ (the PML-N’s symbol), and that some of the voters had stamped the ‘cat’ instead of the ‘tiger’. Besides the candidates who contest elections on party tickets, many run as independents; and each one of them is assigned a different logo.
According to the ECP, the country’s archaic laws embolden many non-serious people to register political parties, contest the polls on party tickets or run as independents; the most they could lose is their security deposit.
The official fee to contest for a National Assembly seat is Rs4,000; to run for a provincial assembly seat the fee is Rs2,000. This fee is submitted to the national exchequer as a security deposit, but it is refundable if you secure a certain number of votes.
“Many candidates enter the race only to write ‘former candidate’ or ‘chairman’ of a certain party with their name,” complained an official of the polling body. “They exploit the system to elevate their social status.” He said the ECP had proposed amendments in the relevant laws to streamline the electoral process and discourage non-serious people from entering the race.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2015.