The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday, accepting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s apology for violating the secrecy of the ballot on election day, withdrew its notice against him — removing one hurdle from his path in taking oath as the prime minister next week.
Khan on July 25 had cast his vote at a polling station of NA-53 (Islamabad) where he defeated former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. TV footage showed Khan, accompanied by his friends and supporters, including Zulfi Bokhari, publicly stamping his ballot paper on the presiding officer’s table.
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;
- (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, had committed an ‘illegal practice’.
The ECP, in a 3-1 vote, accepted Khan’s apology. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza disagreed with the ECP’s Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa members, who were in favour of accepting the apology.
Justice Raza was of the view that evidence showing disrespect of the vote should be recorded.
With the withdrawal of its notice, the ECP is likely to issue a victory notification for the PTI chief for NA-53, which had been withheld due to this case.
Earlier today, Imran Khan’s lawyer Babar Awan submitted an unconditional written apology before the commission on behalf of the PTI supremo.
In his written reply, Khan mentioned that he values the ECP as well as the electoral rules. He said that on July 25, he entered an overcrowded polling station, without any companions, to cast his vote. According to Khan’s reply, furniture was lying everywhere in the station.
“I was told to put my ballot on a table and stamp it when I asked the staffers present there about where to mark the ballot,” Khan told the ECP.
He added that the media recorded footage of him without his consent while he was casting his vote, and that he had not intended to violate the law.
Khan won all five National Assembly constituencies he contested from in the polls. The ECP’s notifications about his victory from three constituencies had already been conditionally issued, and a victory notification for NA-131 was issued on Thursday.