ISLAMABAD: The Elec­tion Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will decide on Thursday (today) the fate of prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan in a case pertaining to secrecy of ballot.

Mr Khan, accompanied by friends and supporters, had openly cast his vote in the NA-53 constituency where he was contesting election against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Syed Sibtul Haider, brother of former Senate chairman Syed Nayyar Bokahri.

Instead of going behind the voting screen to cast his vote in private, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief preferred to publicly stamp the ballot paper placing it on the table of the election officer, with TV cameras filming him. Surprisingly, the presiding officer and other polling staff did not object to the violation.

Under Section 185 (a) of the Elections Act 2017, an election official or a candidate, election agent or polling agent, a voter at a polling station or any person present during vote counting is guilty of an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to Rs1,000 or with both, if he/she fails to maintain secrecy of voting or aids in violating secrecy of voting.

Earlier, the PTI chief was issued a notice by the ECP and July 30 was fixed as the date for hearing. Then Aug 16 was fixed as the next date of hearing on a request for adjournment by Mr Khan’s counsel Babar Awan.

On Wednesday, the ECP was hearing two petitions seeking vote recount and filed by Khawaja Sohail Mansoor of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the PPP’s Ejaz Jhakrani, who lost to the PTI and Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) candidates from NA-239 (Karachi) and NA-196 (Jacobabad), respectively.

The counsel for Imran Khan suddenly jumped in telling the commission that the Supreme Court had set aside the Lahore High Court’s orders for recounting in NA-131 (Lahore) where the PTI leader had defeated Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N.

He asked the commission to issue a notification of Mr Khan’s victory from the constituency in the light of Supreme Court’s order and urged it to instantly take up the case relating to violation of code of conduct against the PTI chief.

On this, the chief election commissioner reminded Mr Awan that Aug 16 had been fixed on his own request and said it was not possible to take up the case today. He however agreed to do it on Thursday, and issued notice to Imran Khan to appear in person or through his counsel before the ECP.

Meanwhile, the commission fixed dates in the last week of the month to two petitioners seeking recount in their constituencies. Khawaja Sohail Mansoor of the MQM had been defeated by Muhammad Akram of the PTI with a thin margin of 336 votes from NA-239 (Karachi) and his counsel pleaded that there was a difference in the statistics of form 45 and form 46.

The commission, however, was not inclined to fix an early date and adjourned the case till Aug 27.

In another case, Mr Jhakrani, who had been defeated by Muhmmadmian Soomro of the GDA, with the margin of victory around 8,000 less than the number of rejected votes, also sought early fixing of his case, but Aug 29 was fixed as the next date of hearing.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2018