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.

33 Comments on “Pakistan Elections 2008: The Sociology of Symbols Allotted to Political Parties”

  1. Daktar says:
    December 9th, 2007 12:47 pm

    Adil, seems like PML(Q) would still prefer the bicycle, even in this age of globalization. Nice to bike on those roads in Punjab they talk so much about. I think that is what they are getting. It used to be that the bicycle as symbol allowed you to identify with the common man. Now it just shows how far you are from the aspirations of the common man.

  2. Shaji says:
    December 9th, 2007 1:39 pm

    In one of our earlier classes in Art and Design we were taught the important of the profile of an image and how the silhouette plays an important part in animations and character design. That when designing something it is extremely important to keep the profile as identifiable as possible because subconsciously that’s the first way of instantly identifying something.

    If I’m not mistaken the list above has been like this ever since 70′s and I have no doubt it will remain this way unless somebody makes a conscious effort to bring some reason to them.

  3. Shaji says:
    December 9th, 2007 1:40 pm

    Which is why Mickey Mouse’s ears are always facing the front and not turn when he turns his head.

  4. December 9th, 2007 1:53 pm

    bezamir nay teeer maara, shuj ki cycle puncture . Nawaz ka shair geedhar nikla, altaf kay haath main revolver. sheikh rasheed ki train kaafi nahi, usskay liye hai lota.

    scooter, rikshay say kaam nahi chalay ga, mushi ko lena paday ga helicopter. Jinn ko lota na mila, unnkay liye hai hanger.

    imran ko do ladder. aur awaam ko do ainak. aik achi nazar say phool do bachon ko, takhtay per sikhao mohabbat.

  5. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 9th, 2007 3:42 pm

    Intikhabi Nishan, poetic comments

    MQM = Patang (kite)

    Kat’tay ho doron say, patangain doussron ki
    kat gai jis din tumhari, ghul machay ga ‘bo kataaa’


    Seraiki subah Party = Chaaqu (knife)

    Diwanon ko marnay kay liay maut chahiay
    katna ho gar subay ko, to ik churra chahiay

  6. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 9th, 2007 4:25 pm

    Intikhabi Nishan and parties

    PML N = Shair (Tiger)
    PML Q = Bicycle
    PML Alli = Fish
    Lahore mein !!
    Shair ki Amad say, Cycle ki hawa nikli
    Ghuggay ne sahi, neher say machli nikli.

    Pakistan Freedom Party = Uquab (Eagle)
    Azad Pakistan Party = Ga’aiy (Cow)

    Raab ka shukr adda kar bhai,
    Jiss nay hamari Ga’aiy banai (not mine)

    Azaadi mangtay hein ye Cheel,Ka’wway,
    Nazar a’aiy kehein say, Iqbal ka Uquab

  7. Falak says:
    December 9th, 2007 4:54 pm

    I’m sure we can think of more symbols that can be added to the existing list:

    i. Lota (plenty of them out there)
    ii. Chamcha (very apt)


  8. Sara says:
    December 9th, 2007 5:47 pm

    Daktar..i agree with you on the bike..maybe the reason they are still sticking with it is because they know they the common man still only has a bike if not already forced to sell it off…

  9. zia m says:
    December 9th, 2007 5:56 pm

    And the winner is …….TANK (fauji party)

  10. Mustafa says:
    December 9th, 2007 5:59 pm

    I would stamp it if Musharraf was on the ballot.

  11. December 9th, 2007 6:39 pm

    Just found out that is quoted at AlJazeera Website, unfortunately as With all the proximity of the letters A and S in english keyboards, the word still makes sense.
    link mentioned:

  12. Zia says:
    December 9th, 2007 7:57 pm

    I thought visually too it would have been easier to put pictures of head of the party on the ballots… but then the problem is that except Tehreek e Insaaf and small regional parties …all others will have General Bin Bush as their symbol. :-D

  13. Eidee Man says:
    December 9th, 2007 8:47 pm

    Actually, the “football” looks more like a volleyball.

  14. RE says:
    December 10th, 2007 12:14 am

    Finally all ready for elections. Hope elections are fair and whoever wins does the best for Pakistan. Hope they have learned from their mistakes and now they do the best to make Pakistan a best country. To me BB or NS is same all I want to see is love for Pakistan with good intentions in winner.
    Allah Bless Pakistan

  15. Mustafa says:
    December 10th, 2007 1:40 am
  16. KD says:
    December 10th, 2007 4:06 am

    If I’m not mistaken, the symbols list has a ‘lota’ (no. 54) as well… lol

    I guess PPP and PML-Q should jointly apply for that one. :)

    PML-N should go with the ‘billi’ (cat) and MQM should definitely get the ‘minar’ (tower). Of course the tower is Bin Ben.

  17. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 10th, 2007 4:20 am


    @as for MQM, its too late, their Patang (kite) is already
    in the skys, we might hear ” bo kataaaaaaaaa “

  18. Political Art says:
    December 10th, 2007 4:48 am

    MQM would be better with Red British Passport Symbol, that would give lot of hope to its electorate, wont it……

  19. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 10th, 2007 5:23 am

    Intikhabi Nishans Political parties

    Amn Party
    (peace Party) = Faakhta (paloma)

    Pakistan Bachao
    Party = Qalam (pen)

    Amn Howa is mulk mein hawas Baakhtah
    Khalil Khanon nay urra di bechari Fakhtah

    Qalam jab tut ja’ain Des ko bachanay mein
    Nakam hui syasat writ apni bachanay mein

  20. Shuja Nawaz says:
    December 10th, 2007 11:59 am

    Thanks for this useful commenatry on the symbols. Why was the Talwa banned? and did the PPPP ask for it this time or not?

    My favorite symbol is the Lota. That’s a loaded symbol if ever there was one.

  21. shahid says:
    December 10th, 2007 5:42 pm

    this is a mystery in pak
    in elections symbols and castes are more important than the party behaviour
    infact no one has idea of party objective, party leadership
    infect purani sharab naye label kai sath
    log phir peenay ko tiyar hain

  22. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 11th, 2007 12:59 pm

    @ Intikhabi Nishan poetic expression

    Bedaar Party = Jahaz (ship)

    Safar kia tha is mallah nay, kai’i toofanon main
    Pohncha sahil pay to, doob gaya uska Berrah

    Labour Party = Seeb ( apple

    Adam nay Kha kay ik seeb bahisht mein
    apni bhi kia, hamari bhi matti palid ki.

  23. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 12th, 2007 11:34 am

    Intikhabi Nishan poetic look,

    Party = Hathaura ( Hammer)

    Hathaura hath mein day kar kaha, ja larr election
    Khopri teray sanam ki, hogai’i kar-e-selection

    Wardak = Daranti (Sackle)

    Election mein jo mujh ko vote dega
    Murgh-e-Bismil Pehlay, mera wo hoga
    Jeetnay do mujhaiy election mein,
    Kheti tumhari par hal wo mera hoga

  24. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 12th, 2007 6:24 pm

    Intikhabi Nishan shair ki nazar mein,

    P.D.P = Chattri (Umbrella)

    Baran-e-Rehmat par Tera sad-shukr, aiy Raab
    Un ki chattri kay chand surakh nazar a ne sakkay.


    Awami National
    Party = Lantern ( laltein)

    Pakistan Awami
    League = Chabbi (key)
    JUI Niazi = Quffle (lock)

    laltein ki Roshni mein, ye uqqdah khulla
    Quffle khulta nehein, raaz ye chabbi ka hay

    National Party = Uonthe (camel)

    Bethaiy gaa ye Uonthe aakhir kis karwat
    Namaloom kon si janib hay iska shimal-o-junub

    Pakistan Brohi
    Party = Ghulail

    Nuqqtay pay haiy Ghulla, is Ghullail ka, Rafay
    Dekhiay kuoon hota hay is ghullay say Baghalgir

    I think JUI should not be exempted:

    JUI S = Sirrhi (ladder)

    Charrh ga’iy minaar pay jab,
    apnay surrur-e-Baam mein
    Khainchtay a’aiy nazar, sirrhi ko,
    sabh jo thay, unki qataar mein
    (mushkil behar) !!!


    JUI F = Topi (hat)

    Topi kehin giray ne us Ushaaq voter ki
    barri chahat say jisnay, in ko pehnaiy thi

  25. Owais Mughal says:
    December 12th, 2007 11:52 pm

    Adil, I will also prefer ‘rickshaw’ symbol over railway engine :) Rickshaw is more Pakistani

    Does anybody know which party got the ‘rickshaw’ symbol?

  26. KD says:
    December 13th, 2007 4:25 am

    They should ban and dispose all rickshaws. They really kill the environment.

  27. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 14th, 2007 1:29 pm

    Intikhabi Nishan shair ki nazar say,

    P M L Func = Phool (flower)

    Syasat jantay hein, ye madaari manjhay howay
    Phool ko fool banatay hein, hay koi inka jawaab ?


    Jamhori watan
    Party = Pahhia (wheel)

    bana rakha hay ham nay, watan ko
    ik hawa nikla hooa Pahhia,
    Jamhori nam hay, aur kaam faqat,
    Karo hartaal magar jaam ne ho pahhia.

  28. Ijaz Ahmad Khattak says:
    February 16th, 2008 6:59 am

    I give my vote to ANP because it is good party of NWFP.

  29. Naeem Akhtar says:
    February 17th, 2008 2:47 am

    I. Love Pakistan & I want till literacy more than 70% there is no govt. except army who respect the imporatnce of humanity
    Long Live Pervaiz Mushraf

    April 26th, 2010 3:18 pm

    serving is the motto of Salam Pakistan Party,not Ruling.
    SALAM PAKISTAN PARTY registered in Election commission of Pakistan Trough Notification No.F.2(1)2008.

    April 26th, 2010 3:36 pm

    Great Peoples, Great Nation, Great Pakistan.
    Salam Pakistan Party……………………..
    I Love Pakistan, We Love Pakistan.
    Salam Pakistan Party is a best party in Political groung in Pakistan.
    Lets join hands to take Pakistan Towards its destiny.
    Son of Paksitan.
    Muhammad Shoaib
    Founder& central president
    salam Pakistan party

    Cell No.+923335219893.

  32. Watan Aziz says:
    April 26th, 2010 5:36 pm

    keybrd neu

    symbel of dah partea,kumptr keybrd

    partea affaice,
    take bus,no 4
    gulbrugh rd
    aposit laore kallage 4voman
    laore Pa kistan

    P.S. This is a riot, I want my old keyboard back!

    P.P.S. Will this post help with word indexing algorithms?

    P.P.P.S. If we can get that Urdu newspaper guy to start posting with his English to Urdu transliteration with his own inventive rules, none of will be bored and better indexing thrown in for the side. One more time, three cheers to ‘aukus’ford Urdu to English dkitshunary!

  33. CH M.SHOAIB says:
    March 23rd, 2011 10:48 pm


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