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ISLAMABAD: The Election Comm­i­ssion of Pakistan on Thursday sought a signed apology from prime minister-in-waiting and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan for violating the secrecy of ballot.

Mr Khan had cast his vote at a polling station of NA-53 (Islamabad) where he defeated former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the July 25 general election. TV footage showed Mr Khan, accompanied by his friends and supporters including Zulfi Bokhari, publicly stamping his ballot paper on the presiding officer’s table.

Babar Awan, the counsel for Imran Khan, appeared before a four-member bench of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) headed by Chief Election Commissioner (ECP) retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza during the hearing of the case relating to violation of the ballot secrecy, and gave a new twist to the controversy.

Election commission excuses PTI chief, Maulana Fazl, Ayaz Sadiq and Pervez Khattak in foul language case

In a written reply, he claimed that the PTI chief did not deliberately show his vote and photographs of the ballot paper were not taken with his consent. He explained that the voting screen fell down due to the crowd inside the polling station, adding that his client had asked where should he go to cast his vote and was told to do it right there.

The counsel pleaded that the notification of his client’s victory from NA-52 be issued. Initially, he gave these arguments verbally, but was told by the ECP bench to submit them in writing.

An ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa appeared to be dissatisfied with the written apology and pointed out that no affidavit had been attached with it.

The commission rejected the written reply and asked for a written apology signed by Imran Khan. The hearing was adjourned till Friday (today).

The secrecy of ballot is guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 226 that states: “All elections under the Constitution, other than those of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, shall be by secret ballot.”

Section 178 of the Elections Act 2017 specifically deals with the secrecy of ballot. It reads: “….A person is guilty of interference with the secrecy of voting if he –(a) interferes or attempts to interfere with a voter when he records his vote; (b) in any manner obtains or attempts to obtain in a polling station information as to the candidate or candidates for whom a voter is about to vote…(c) communicates at any time any information obtained in a polling station as to the candidate…for whom a voter is about to vote(d) takes or attempts to take a photograph of the marked ballot paper by using cell phone camera or any other device to interfere with secrecy of vote; or(e) in any other manner discloses the secrecy of the vote.”

These two sections mean that Imran Khan, as voter along with the polling staff of that polling station and all TV cameras covering his act of marking his ballot, has committed an ‘illegal practice’.

Meanwhile, the ECP bench disposed of the cases against four key political leaders —Imran Khan, chief of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PML-N leader and former National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister Pervez Khattak — for using foul language against opponents at political gatherings during election campaigns.

The commission accepted the written apologies submitted by their counsel, but warned them against using indecent language in future.

The ECP also notified Imran Khan as a returned candidate from NA-131 (Lahore) where he had defeated PML-N stalwart Khawaja Saad Rafique.

The notification was issued a day after the Supreme Court set aside a decision of the Lahore High Court restraining the ECP from issuing the victory notification of the PTI chairman from NA-131 and ordering the returning officer to hold a recount of all ballot papers.

Mr Khan had won all the five National Assembly constituencies he contested from. The notifications about his victory from three constituencies had already been conditionally issued. Now only the result of his success from NA-53 remains withheld because of violation of the secrecy of ballot.

The ECP also notified Muhammad Hamid Hameed of the PML-N and Farrukh Habib of the PTI as returned candidates from NA-90 (Sargodha) and NA-108 (Faisalabad), respectively, besides issuing notifications for two provincial assembly constituencies — one each from KP and Balochistan.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018