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Pakistan Elections 2008: The Sociology of Symbols Allotted to Political Parties

Posted on December 9, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Politics, Society
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Adil Najam

The idea for this post came from a comment left by reader Rafay Kashmiri on a different post where he offers poetic commentary on the election symbols allotted to various political parties for Pakistan’s 2008 elections. I have always found the entire sociology of election symbols in Pakistan rather interesting and sometimes funny.

Election Symbols Pakistan Elections 2008Election Symbols Pakistan Elections 2008

In a country with high illiteracy election symbols are important. In a society with a high visual sensibility they are even more important. The quality of artwork in the Election Commissions symbols is borderline at best but in a place where symbolism rules symbols cannot but be important.



So, PPP post-Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is to be denied the talwar (sword) but an arrow can load enough of a punch. But what about the punch (mukka) as a symbol. How rich is that. Probably not as rich as the lion (sher) as a symbol; except, of course, for all the under-fed measly circus lions which will be paraded by candidates. The Tonga, of course, is a classic symbol. It used to be said of Nawabzadda Nasrullah Khan that his party was allotted the tonga as a symbol because the entire party could fit into one tonga. That was probably not true, but funny.

But look at the list of official symbols approved by the election commission.

Election Symbols Pakistan Elections 2008Election Symbols Pakistan Elections 2008
Election Symbols Pakistan Elections 2008Election Symbols Pakistan Elections 2008
Election Symbols Pakistan Elections 2008Election Symbols Pakistan Elections 2008

  • Do you really want a bicycle in this age of globalization (No. 5)?
  • What about NO. 4 (a bunch of grapes) will that lead to a search for hidden meanings?
  • I like the comb (No. 25) but candidates with thinning hair might want to stay away from that, otherwise the jokes will just fly.
  • And who will want to be the Football (No. 34) and be kicked around. Better, in fact, to be the Ghulail (No. 37) and be in control.
  • And exactly what is the symbol of Randa (planner, No. 60) supposed to signify.
  • I am sure Owais Mughal will prefer the Railway Engine (no. 62) but I have a preference for No. 63 (Rickshaw). However, maybe its time to replace the Scooter (No. 68) with a Motorcycle?
  • I always liked the Takhti (No. 79) but that may also be something whose time is now up, even in rural schools. The same can be said for ‘The Slate’ (No. 139).
  • Given our politicians histories of exile, probably they want to stay away from No. 74 (suitcase).
  • The Turban (No. 90), I think, is a elegant symbol, but the whistle (No. 94) can conjure up funny ideas.
  • The crown (no. 110) is what everyone aspires for but why would you want to be symbolized by a Hanger (No. 119)?
  • And why the fascination with food. And if so, I can understand the mango (No. 126), but why Bhindi (Ladyfinger, No. 124) or the slippery kaila (Banana, No. 160) or Anaar (Pomegranate, No. 134).
  • That there is a symbol called Water Cooler (No. 145) suggests that the list has been updated but next to it is the Typewriter (No. 144) – but still no computer – which suggests that this has not happened recently.
  • Also, take a look at No. 143. Its called Tower (minaar). Nothing wrong with that. But why did we have to choose the picture of the Big Ben in London as the minaar for election symbols in Pakistan?

Of course, none of these questions have answers and none should be taken too seriously anyhow. But if we are going to be symbolic, it is interesting to think of what we are trying to symbolize.

But election symbols, at the end of the day, are about politics. And as The News reports, the politics is now on:

The incomplete Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will meet here on Sunday (today) to formally allot the election symbols to as many as 48 political parties. Pakistan People’s Party wrote to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retd) Qazi Muhammad Farooq, requesting him to deny ‘book’ as the election symbol to the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal for the upcoming elections.

The CEC will chair the meeting that takes up the tricky task because political parties are very particular about the election symbols and also have objections to the allotment of certain symbols to other stakeholders. The commission will allot symbols from a list of 147 symbols. “The commission has chalked out a strategy for the purpose,” said a senior official of the ECP while talking to The News here on Saturday. Like previous important occasions, the commission will have its deliberations without the representation of the NWFP and Sindh. For the last several months, the constitutional body is working with two members from provinces i.e. one from the Lahore High Court Justice Nasim Sikandar and Ahmed Khan Lashari from the Balochistan High Court. The official explained that symbols to which no party or candidate had any objection would be allotted straightaway, without any delay or hindrance. But he hastened to add that in case more than one party was interested in one particular symbol, the allotment would be made through ballot.

The official agreed that the PPP, PML-Q and PML-N were most likely to get their previous symbols — ‘arrow’, ‘cycle’ and ‘tiger’ as election symbols for the current elections respectively. Some other parties, too, may also get their old symbols. The official maintained in some cases, for a particular symbol, the commission had received more than one application.

The MMA had fought the 2002 election with ‘book’ as election symbol. But it has not been able to surmount its internal differences at the moment. It faces division on the question of participation in the electoral process. MMA’s Jamaat-e-Islami has applied for ‘umbrella’ while a component party of the MMA the JUI of Maulana Fazlur Rehman has applied for ‘book’ as election symbol. The ECP has invited one representative each of the component parties of the MMA for consultations at 9:30 am on Sunday. Other parties have been asked to send their representatives at 11:00 am the same day. Meanwhile, Senator Abdul Latif Khosa told The News that PPP has written to EC that the six-party alliance of religio-political groups might be allotted any other symbol and not book.

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