ISLAMABAD  - The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is confronted with a challenging task of printing ballots papers for local bodies (LB) polls in Punjab and Sindh to what officials said may affect the exercise keeping in view the gigantic task of printing of over 530 million ballots in 22 days.

With Supreme Court of Pakistan asking the ECP to hold LB polls in Punjab and Sindh by September 20 this year, the election conducting body on Wednesday held a meeting with heads of printing corporations whether the printing of 530 million ballot papers would be ready by the time.

Two weeks back, the three printing corporations, Printing Corporation of Pakistan, Security Printing of Pakistan and Pakistan Post Office Foundation had informed the ECP that they could collectively print as many as 110 million ballot papers thus falling short of 420 million ballots.

The excuse by the printing bodies triggered ECP to hint at hiring of private printing services for meeting the backlog citing reasons that the limited printing capacity of printing corporations was not enough to print all the materials without taking help from private companies.

But during Wednesday’s meeting, the heads of printing corporations assured Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and four permanent members of the ECP that they can jack up the number of printing papers to an optimum level of 330 million in 22 days.

It is to be mentioned here that after ECP issues schedule for LB polls and finalises scrutiny of nomination papers, the remaining 22 days are left for printing of ballot papers.

Sources privy to the meeting told The Nation that ECP was informed that provision of ballot papers to KP where LB polls are due on May 30, would be no issue as the printing corporations can meet the demand of the province.

“But the problem will arise during LB polls in Punjab and Sindh where the ECP in light of the Supreme Court decision is required to hold elections in the two provinces simultaneously. In Punjab alone, we need 320 million ballot papers,” the official said.

Similarly, over 110 million papers would be printed for conducting LB polls in Sindh followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where 100 million ballots would be printed. The sources said that ECP would fall short of 90 million ballot papers even if the three printing agencies utilize its machinery up to its optimum capacities adding that there would be no choice with the commission except floating tenders for private printing presses.

In case ECP opts for printing of ballots from private sector, it would brave itself for criticism from political parties that had accused the commission of hiring private firms from Urdu Bazaar during 2013 general elections.

“The ECP will take the private printing presses in its own custody during printing of ballots to ensure that the papers are not stolen for rigging the elections. But so far we are trying to get the whole ballots printed by government-owned printing corporations,” an official said.

To ensure printing of 530 million ballot papers from government-run printing presses, the ECP Wednesday formed a five-member committee to be headed by its additional secretary Sher Afgan and comprised heads of the printing corporations.

According to ECP officials, the problem of ballot papers surfaced when the apex court called for elections on same dates in Punjab and Sindh adding the commission had requested to hold the exercise in phases in order to have enough time for printing of the ballots.

ECP said it is already over-occupied with holding elections in cantonment areas across the country on April 25 arguing that the commission may fail in meeting all formalities for LB polls in the three provinces.

“ECP is not a machine that can get things on a single click. Elections at grass roots level is a hectic and time consuming exercise. At last we will definitely go for private printing of ballot papers and we will be subjected to criticism consequently,” a senior ECP official complained.