HYDERABAD: Personnel of the Pakistan Army, Rangers and police carry out a flag march, on Tuesday. Two days before the nation goes to the polls, security has been beefed up across the country to avert any untoward situation during the Feb 8 vote.—Umair Ali
HYDERABAD: Personnel of the Pakistan Army, Rangers and police carry out a flag march, on Tuesday. Two days before the nation goes to the polls, security has been beefed up across the country to avert any untoward situation during the Feb 8 vote.—Umair Ali

• Nawaz woos youth in Kasur; Bilawal makes tall claims in Larkana; PTI without its symbol ‘bat’ keeps struggling
• Election Commission bars candidates from canvassing, warns of legal action

ISLAMABAD: At the stroke of midnight, a relatively lacklustre election campaign came to an end on Tuesday, as the Election Commission of Pakistan issued an advisory restra­ining all political parties and candidates from canvassing for Feb 8 polls.

The last day of the campaign trail took PPP Chair­pe­rson Bilawal Bhutto-Zar­dari to Larkana — home to the Bhutto political dynasty — whereas PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif chose Kasur — the constituency of his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif — to end their political campaign on a high note. Mr Sharif was also supposed to speak at a rally in Lahore, but it was cancelled.

For PTI, however, the situation was different. On one hand the party was denied of its iconic election symbol ‘bat’, on the other party founder Imran Khan remains in jail facing scores of charges.

ECP advisory

In a statement, the watchdog asked the candidates and their parties to comply with Section 182 of the Elections Act. Section 182 reads no person is allowed to participate in any public meeting, procession, corner meeting or any such political activity after Tuesday night.

“Legal action will be taken against any person who violates the above mentioned provision of the law. It said following the start of the pre-election silence period the election campaigns, adver­ti­se­m­ents and other written mat­erials on electronic and print media, in support or opposition of a particular political party or candidate were not allowed.”

The law also bars poll surveys on the media till the completion of the election process. However, the watchdog allowed the media to broadcast the poll results one hour after the end of the polling, but with a clear indication that these results were inconclusive and unofficial.

Returning officers will release progressive results of the polling stations and the complete inconclusive result.

The ECP reminded all political parties and contesting candidates that under Sections 48 and 49 of the Code of Conduct, any campaign within 400 metres of the polling station will be banned on the election day.

Similarly, there will be a complete ban on notices, symbols, banners or flags containing notices, symbols, banners or flags encouraging voters to vote for a particular candidate within 100 metres of polling booths.

“…While political parties, candidates, election agents or their supporters will be able to set up their camps at a distance of 400 metres from the polling station in rural areas and 100 metres away in densely populated urban areas on the polling day,” the commission said.

The ECP spokesman said the district returning officers, returning officers, and police administration shall be responsible for ensuring the implementation of the provisions.

Nawaz in Kasur

The PML-N ended its cam­paign by organising a ga­thering in Kasur district, a short drive from Lahore.

During the rally at Railways Station ground, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif wooed the youth and said with their help, the PML-N would rebuild Pakistan.

He said the youth would rescue Pakistan from the challenges and transform it into a prosperous nation. The PML-N leader compa­r­ed his party’s accomplishments with the PTI’s actions, stating the PTI engaged in sit-ins, whereas the PML-N constructed motorways, provided affordable fertiliser to the farmers, lowered prices of daily commodities, and ended loadshedding.

Mr Sharif urged the people to come out and vote on Feb 8, saying that Feb 9 would usher in an era of progress.

PPP chief in Larkana

The PPP chief addressed a meeting in Larkana where he sounded confident about his party’s prospects for victory in case of a transparent election. He blamed his political opponents for putting into danger the country’s securi­ty, economy, and democracy.

Brushing aside Na­­waz Sharif’s claim of sweeping the polls, the PPP chief said the ground reality was quite different as PPP was gaining popularity while PML-N was not getting much support even in Lahore.

He said PML-N could not even hold a rally in Multan whereas in KP, the ex-premier was “lo­­sing his own seat”. He clai­m­­ed PPP was ahead of PML-N in Balochistan as well.

PTI circumvents crackdown

In the lead-up to polls, the PTI faced a strict clampdown from the state, forcing it to adopt alternative strategies to reach its voters. Reuters news agency reported PTI was deploying a two-pronged strategy of secretive campaigning, often led by female teacher volunteers, and generative AI technology.

The party has used AI to create footage of Imran Khan, reading speeches he conve­y­­ed to lawyers from his prison cell, urging supporters to turn out on the election day.

PTI organised online rallies on social media that have been watched by several hundred thousand people at a time, according to YouTube data. The report said that PTI’s ability to tap into new technology and the former cricketer’s personal popularity have kept him in the headlines. Despite PTI’s online reach, elections in Pakistan, depend on election workers generating turnout.

Election observers in town

Besides, a delegation of the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) led by ex-Nigeria president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan called on caretaker premier Anwaarul Haq Ka­­k­ar whereas the Election Obs­e­­rver Group of the Civic Cha­mber of the Russian Fede­ra­tion met the ECP secretary.

The caretaker PM said Pa­­k­istan was proud to honour its commitment as a Com­mo­nwealth member state by in­­viting independent international observers to witness the general elections.

Accor­d­­­ing to a press released by the PM’s Office, Mr Kakar said the ‘best possible arrangements’ had been made to ensure peaceful elections.

Afzal Ansari in Kasur and M.B. Kalhoro in Larkana also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2024

To find your constituency and location of your polling booth, SMS your NIC number (no spaces) to 8300. Once you know your constituency, visit the ECP website here for candidates.



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