ECP issues final scheme of polling stations after missing legal deadline

Published January 27, 2024
PESHAWAR: Vendors display caps, t-shirts, badges and flags of different political parties in a market in the Mohallah Jangi area, on Friday.—PPI
PESHAWAR: Vendors display caps, t-shirts, badges and flags of different political parties in a market in the Mohallah Jangi area, on Friday.—PPI

ISLAMABAD: After failing to meet the legal deadline and missing the timeline it set for itself, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday issued the final polling scheme for the Feb 8 general elections.

Section 59(6) of the Elections Act 2017 requires the publication of the final list of polling stations of each constituency, at least 30 days before polling day, in the official gazette as well as the website of the ECP.

The ECP, however, had announced it would publish the polling scheme 15 days before polling day, another deadline that could not be met.

When contacted by Dawn, a senior ECP official agreed that there were other reasons behind the legal requirement of placing the polling scheme on ECP’s website 30 days before polling day, in addition to ensuring transparency in the processes leading to elections.

Number of polling stations lower than stipulated in the law, meaning not all voters may be able to cast ballots, even if polling time is extended

He said under the law, the ECP was also supposed to install or direct any government to install a surveillance camera in each polling booth of most sensitive polling stations to record poll proceedings, process of counting of votes and preparation of results by the presiding officer, besides taking other appropriate security measures.

More voters than envisioned under law

The polling scheme issued after an inordinate delay also violates the law on majority of the constituencies, with the number of voters assigned to polling stations far exceeding the limit prescribed in the law.

Section 59(3) of the Elections Act reads “As far as practicable, not more than 1,200 voters shall be assigned to a polling station and not more than 300 voters shall be assigned to a polling booth, and reasons for any deviation shall be recorded in writing”.

The scheme outlines the distribution of polling stations across all four provinces and the federal capital, categorising them as normal, sensitive, or highly sensitive based on the security situation and electoral violence history. A total of 90,675 polling stations with 276,402 polling booths will be set up across Pakistan under the polling scheme for a total of 128 million voters.

Had the law been followed, the number of polling stations should have been over 107,000, with each having four polling booths. In other words, over 150,000 fewerpolling booths are being established then required under the law, making it almost impossible at various places for all present to vote, even if polling time is extended in case of a high turnout.

In Punjab, 50,944 polling stations will be established for the general elections, followed by 19,006 in Sindh,15,697 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and 5,028 in Balochistan.

Changes to ballot

Meanwhile, the ECP is faced with a challenging situation, with the superior judiciary continuing to allow candidates to contest elections or ordering change of poll symbols to them. Sources in the commission said printing of ballot papers of some of the constituencies these candidates are to contest has already been completed. It has been learnt that the schedule for ballot papers printing was already tight, and re-printing would be possible at the end, highlighting that ensuring their timely transportation to the constituencies across the country was also a daunting task.

Currently, he said, some 260m ballot papers were being printed for nearly 130m voters in the country. The ECP had purchased additional ballot paper material, which was also to be used in the by-election. “Now the capacity of printing additional ballot papers with the Election Commission is very low and it will barely be able to meet the requirement of ballot papers for the nation-wide electoral exercise,” he maintained.

At present, he explained, ballot papers were being printed in three printing companies of the country, which have their own capacity of printing. He said the purpose of starting the printing of ballot papers soon was to complete the ballot papers on time so that their timely delivery could be ensured across the length and breadth of the country.

In a related development, the ECP issued a notification to authorise district returning officers and ROs with magisterial powers first class under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (Act V of 1898) with immediate effect and until the consolidation and announcement of official results in relation to the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies elections.

The ECP also took notice of the participation of assistant commissioner (HR&M) Kasur, RO of PP-178 (Kasur-IV) in an election rally of a political party. The ECP directed the chief secretary of Punjab to suspend the officer and report to the services and general administration department and conduct an inquiry against him for violating the code of conduct.

Abdul Hafeez Baqapuri, district education officer (elementary education), Kasur, has been posted as RO in his place in the constituency.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2024


To find your constituency and the location of your polling booth, SMS your NIC number (without spaces) to 8300. Once you know your constituency, you can find out about the contesting candidates by visiting the ECP website here and checking the province-wise break-up of Form 33s.

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