Even as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) remains mired in a host of issues away from the political field, with most of its party leadership either in jail, in hiding or having simply left the party and politics, it now has to sweat over retaining another key aspect of elections, its electoral symbol.
As the elections inch closer, all political parties must register for symbols. Even if they have contested an election with a symbol in the past, they must register for it again. The symbols are critical for parties because it is the only representation of the party on an electoral ballot.
"Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has conducted its intra-party elections and other necessary matters to avoid complexity during the elections," PTI’s senior counsel Shoaib Shaheen told [The Friday Times].
He was confident that the party would be able to secure its old symbol of ‘Bat’, dispelling rumours of depriving the party of its election symbol.
Categorically rejecting a particular objection to the party, he asserted that the party had completed its intraparty elections as required by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
"PTI is a registered party, and it will contest over its old symbol of ‘Bat’," he stated confidently.
Curiously, the country's apex election regulator has yet to commence the process to allot election symbols to registered political parties and individuals. But that has not stopped controversy about party symbols in the political arena.
This is why there is controversy over the symbol of the "Eagle", which has become the bone of contention between the recently delisted party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) - set up by former dictator General Pervez Musharraf - and the new party, Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP). The IPP has reportedly sought the same symbol following its certification earlier in the month.
There are three other claimants for the “eagle” symbol. The ECP has so far received applications on behalf of APML from Saif-ur-Rehman, Jahan Zareen and Abdul Samee asking that the symbol be allocated to them in the forthcoming general elections.
When are election symbols allocated?
Election symbols are usually allotted to political parties and individual candidates after announcing the electoral schedule.
According to the Allocation of Symbols Order 2002, the ECP first declared a date for political parties to apply for symbols. This is usually announced immediately after the election schedule is announced.
This time, however, the ECP has thus far only announced a tentative schedule for polls but has yet to announce a definitive schedule. The ECP has committed to announcing a schedule for the general elections after completing the exercise to delimit constituencies.
When contacted, former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad told The Friday Times that the ECP has yet to formally start allotting election symbols to parties.
He said that under Section 210 of the Elections Act, 2017, read with Section 204 of the Act [ibid] and rule 159 and 160 of the Election Rules, 2017, all the political parties are required to file their statement of accounts and assets for the financial year with the ECP. Moreover, parties are also required to submit documents certifying that intra-party elections were held.
Dilshad said that if a registered political party or independent candidate fails to fulfil the condition of intra-party elections and file party assets, the ECP under the Elections Act, 2017, read with Section-204, 210, 210, and 215, has the right to take action against political parties regarding its election emblem.
If a political party has been allotted a particular symbol in the past, they enjoy a preferential right to seek and get the same symbol allotted in any upcoming polls, provided they have followed the prescribed rules.
Registered parties prefer to maintain symbols across elections to ensure consistency and maintain a connection in voters' minds.
Squabbles over electoral symbols are quite common. In the past, the Jamaat-e-Islami and PTI have clashed over the symbol of "Tarazoo" (weighing scale). With the scales also considered a symbol of justice, the PTI claimed it on the pretext that it aligned with their stated mission and party ideology.
But after a protracted conflict which involved several meetings with multiple sittings with ECP officials, the PTI relented, given that the JI had a stronger claim and a preferential right over the symbol since they had long used it as their electoral emblem.
Later, the PTI decided to contest the symbol of the ‘Bat’ as it embraced the identity of its chairman, former national cricket team captain Imran Khan.
Similarly, controversy was kicked up when allocating the "Book" symbol to Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F.
The ECP allotted the religious party the symbol of an open book, with alphabets and other characters inscribed.
Moreover, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) symbol of "Arrow" also remained mired in controversy and the source of conflict between two factions of the party, the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) and PPP. Eventually, the PPPP prevailed over the disgruntled group within the PPP led by Naheed Khan and Safdar Abbasi.