ISLAMABAD - After facing enormous criticism over its failure to stop violations of the code of conduct, the Election Commission on Friday completely banned the political parties’ advertisements promoting their publicity campaigns.The move seems convincingly linked to the commission’s denial issued the same day (Friday) to dispel the widely believed impression as reflected in some media reports that Election Commission of Pakistan was a ‘spokesman’ for PML-N. Despite publicly expressing inability on several occasions to take up the cases of pre-poll rigging before the announcement of election schedule in any constituency for lack of related constitutional provisions, the ECP on Friday suddenly issued a lengthy press release to ban publicity campaigns of political parties after it denied being PML-N’s mouthpiece. The PML-Q had slammed N-League for promoting its publicity campaign through advertisements using public funds. “The ECP clarifies and emphatically denies the allegation that the ECP is a spokesman for PML-N. To the contrary, the ECP is absolutely neutral. The Chief Election Commissioner and four members were appointed by the mutual consent of all the political parties. No one in the commission has any affiliation with any political party. Therefore, the allegation is totally incorrect.”On the other hand, the commission’s recent record shows that it had transferred former Sindh election commissioner Sonu Khan Baloch for his alleged affiliation with the ruling PPP that triggered opposition from some other major political parties. In addition, another senior ECP officer is known for being an ‘informal’ member and a ‘diehard’ follower of JUI-F. “This is an open secret that everybody knows, but hardly talks about it,” an ECP official commented on the issue. PML-Q has also repeatedly criticised the ECP , accusing it of being ‘soft’ on the PML-N and failing to take action against violations of the electoral rules in the recent by-elections in Punjab. “All the complaints made by the PML-Q, prior to the by-elections in the Punjab were patiently heard and immediately redressed. Complaints by PML-Q after the conclusion and submission of results by the returning officers have to be heard and tried by the election tribunals under the law. So it is legally incorrect to say that ECP failed to check rigging, if committed by any party in the by-elections,” the commission’s denial statement said. In stark contradiction to what the commission now contends, ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmed Khan had termed the violations of the ECP Code of Conduct in the last month’s by-polls ‘general in nature’. “The general complaints do not attract the application of Section 103 AA of the People’s Representation Act 1976.But if anybody wants to file a complaint, he/she can move our election tribunals,” he said at a press briefing on December 13, 2012. The Section 103 AA of the said act empowers the commission to declare the results of any election in any constituency void if it finds grave illegalities committed by a candidate.In addition, the commission’s statement regarding banning advertisements by political parties said, “It has been noted with concern by the ECP that as the forthcoming elections are approaching, there are frequent advertisements appearing in the print and electronic media, highlighting the achievements of the federal and provincial governments and that these advertisements were being used to promote political parties by placing party symbols and images of their leaders therein.”On numerous occasions, CEC Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim has, however, stated at press briefings as well as in conversations with The Nation that ECP is not constitutionally mandated to take action against pre-poll rigging as extensive publicity campaigns by political parties allegedly at the cost of public funds. But the commission Friday ‘discovered’ that it had been empowered to intervene in the light of Article 218 (3) of the Constitution.  Meanwhile, the ECP on Friday appointed Director General (Budget) Sonu Khan Baloch as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial election commissioner while KPK PEC Tariq Qadri was posted as the Punjab PEC and Punjab PEC Mehboob Anwar appointed as the Sindh PEC. Previously, Anwar had additional charge of the Sindh PEC after the removal of Sonu Baloch from the said slot last month.                   –SIKANDER SHAHEEN