Islamabad - The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday imposed a ban on new government appointments and granting of development funds, ostensibly to discourage pre-poll rigging.

The ECP issued two separate orders, effective from April 1, to prevent ruling parties at centre and in provinces to use jobs and funds as political bribe to get votes in the general elections, which are due in July this year.

One of the orders imposed a ban on recruitment of public servants in federal, provincial and local government institutions. However, appointments falling under the Federal Public Service Commission and Provincial Public Service Commission(s) will be exempted from this ban.

Under the other order, the commission said that no development scheme will be allowed to be launched – including installation of gas pipelines, carpeting of roads, water supply etc. Moreover, the funds of ongoing development schemes cannot be used for any other purpose.

The ECP has issued these orders in accordance with the Election Act 2017, and it said that all ministries and departments concerned have been duly informed.

The Election Commission, which has been made more powerful now, has taken all the ruling political players by surprise by issuing these orders.

Media reports suggest all the ruling political parties had allocated hefty development funds to use those near the elections to lure the voters, but their plans now stand jeopardised.

These funds were supposed to be given to the MPs of the respective parties while sidelining the opposition lawmakers.

Opposition members have been making hue and cry that they were being denied development funds by the respective governments.

Some political sources claimed that the ruling PML-N had allocated Rs50 billion for the election and had disbursed the money as development funds among its MPs. But PML-N sources rejected this assertion, saying that it was mere a propaganda to malign the most popular party.

Some PML-N MPs from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa blamed the PTI government for distributing development funds among its members, but PTI sources also rejected it calling it propaganda.

Political analysts say the Supreme Court had already pricked the different governments’ plans to influence the voters by imposing ban on use of public money for advertising their development feats. They believed that the ban imposed by the ECP will further dent their efforts to lure the voters.

Welcoming this tightening the noose around the neck of the sitting governments, they said this will help ensure a level playing field for all the parties.

They also hailed the commission’s decision to appoint judicial officers as returning officers (ROs), deputy ROs and assistant ROs in the upcoming elections. The ECP has already written to the chief justices of the high courts for this purpose, they noted.

The commission has apparently opted for appointing judicial officers in a bid to minimise chances of the kind of rigging allegations that marred 2013 general elections.

Main opposition party, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had described those elections as ‘ROs elections’, while Pakistan Tehreek-i- Insaf (PTI) staged massive protest demonstrations and long sit-ins alleging that the elections were rigged by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

The matter was finally resolved through a probe conducted by a judicial commission headed by not less the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

Political observers have also appreciated viewpoint of the Election Commission regarding proposed delimitation of constituencies.

They believe some political parties wanted to pressure the ECP through National Assembly’s Special Committee but the commission strictly followed the law in this matter and asked the Special Committee to file any complaints directly to the Election Commission.

The Commission has received 1,286 objections from all the four provinces, ICT and Fata and is accordingly hearing the objections for disposal. It will dispose of all the complaints regarding proposed delimitation of constituencies by May 2.