ECP Finalises Polling Arrangements for Feb 8 Elections

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has finally published the final polling scheme for the upcoming general elections on February 8, 2024, after missing the legal deadline and its own timeline.

According to the scheme, the ECP has envisaged a total of 90,675 polling stations and 276,402 polling booths to be set up across the country for over 128 million registered voters. The scheme also outlines the distribution of polling stations in all four provinces and the federal capital, Islamabad.

However, a senior ECP official admitted that 150,000 fewer polling booths are being established than required under the law, which will make it almost impossible at various places for all present to vote if the turnout is high.

The scheme also categorizes the polling stations as normal, sensitive, or highly sensitive based on the security situation and electoral violence history. The ECP has requested the deployment of security forces and the installation of CCTV cameras at the sensitive and highly sensitive polling stations to ensure a peaceful and transparent electoral process.

The final polling scheme was supposed to be published at least 30 days ahead of the polling day in the official Gazette as well as on the website of the ECP, as per Section 59(6) of the Elections Act, 2017. However, the ECP failed to meet this legal deadline and also missed its own announcement that the scheme would be published 15 days before the polling date.

The ECP attributed the delay to the late submission of electoral rolls by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the verification of polling stations by the district administrations.

The ECP has also been busy dealing with various issues related to the implementation of the model code of conduct for the elections. The ECP has taken notice of the participation of some government officials in the election campaigns of political parties and has reshuffled them accordingly.

For instance, the ECP has replaced the assistant commissioner (HR&M) Kasur, who was also the returning officer of PP-178 Kasur-IV, with the district education officer (elementary education male) Kasur, after finding him involved in an election rally of a political party.

The ECP has also imposed fines on several candidates for violating the model code of conduct, such as holding public meetings without permission, using loudspeakers, and displaying banners and posters. The candidates have deposited the fines in the government treasury and submitted the challans to the ECP.

Moreover, the ECP has issued 71 notices to candidates and others for various violations in the four provinces and has taken action against them. A total of 24 candidates and the chairman and district chairman of the local government have been fined by the ECP.

The ECP has also ordered the removal of banned publicity hoardings and materials from the public places and has directed the district administrations to ensure compliance.

The ECP is now faced with a new situation after the Supreme Court of Pakistan allowed some candidates to take part in the elections, as the printing of ballot papers in a few of them has been already completed. The ECP has said that it will try to reprint the ballot papers in the light of the apex court verdict, but it may not be possible in some cases due to the tight schedule and logistical constraints.

The ECP has urged all the stakeholders, including the political parties, candidates, voters, media, and civil society, to cooperate with the ECP in conducting free, fair, and transparent elections on February 8, 2024.

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