Simultaneous elections

GS 2 – Salient Features of the Representation of People’s Act.

Source : The Indian Express dated 05/06/2021

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/why-simultaneous-polls-is-an-idea-whose-time-has-come-7344586/

Reference : https://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Note%20on%20Simultaneous%20Elections.pdf

Context : As the elections in four states and one Union territory in March-April are suspected to have contributed to the second wave of Covid infections, a well-reasoned debate on a concept as important as “one nation, one election” is called for.

What does ‘simultaneous elections’ mean?
  • The term “Simultaneous Elections” is defined as structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are synchronized together. In such a scenario, a voter would normally cast his/her vote for electing members of Lok Sabha and State Assembly on a single day and at the same time.
  • Simultaneous elections do not mean that voting across the country for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies needs to happen on a single day. This can be conducted in a phase-wise manner as per the existing practice.

Evolution of the idea

  • The concept of simultaneous elections is in-fact not new to the country. Post adoption of the Constitution, the elections to Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies were held simultaneously between 1951 till 1967 when the cycle of synchronized elections got disrupted.
  • Dissolution of certain Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 followed by the dissolution of the Lok Sabha led to the “disruption of the conduct of simultaneous elections.”(Law Commission Report)

Issues with the existing electoral cycle

  • Impact on Governance due to imposition of Model Code of Conduct
    • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a set of norms that lays down several do’s and do not’s that political parties, contesting candidates, party(ies) in power have to strictly abide by during the process of elections. The MCC has been evolved with the consensus of political parties who have agreed to abide by its principles and to respect and observe it in its letter and spirit.
    • The Model Code is enforced from the date of announcement of election schedule by the Election Commission and is operational till the process of elections is completed
    • Parliamentary Standing committee in its 79th report – The Committee states “…The imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) puts on hold the entire development programme and activities of the Union and State Governments in the poll bound State”.
    • Applicability of Model Code of Conduct for about 4 months or more every year – affects governance.
  • Frequent elections lead to massive expenditures by Government & other stakeholders
    • A NITI Aayog paper says that the country has at least one election each year; actually, each state has an election every year, too.  Directly budgeted costs are around Rs 300 crore for a state the size of Bihar.

Dr. S. Y. Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner once said that “….elections have become the root cause of corruption in the country”. He further mentioned that “….after winning elections, the politician-bureaucrat nexus indulges in “recovering the investment” and that is where corruption begins”

Candidates and political parties in their bid to win elections end up spending significantly more than the prescribed expenditure limits- one of the key drivers for corruption and black-money in the country.

In contrast to the above set of data, the cost of holding elections for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies has been pegged at Rs. 4500 crore by the ECI in case elections are held simultaneously. These figures indicate that simultaneous elections would help the exchequer curtail election expenditures in a significant manner

  • Engagement of security forces for significantly prolonged periods
    • While conducting elections to the 16th Lok Sabha, the ECI took the help of approximately 10 million personnel as polling officials for running and supervising the election process across 9,30,000 Polling Stations of the country25 . This translates to an average of about 10.75 personnel per polling station.
    • While the deployment of polling officials is still for a smaller duration (typically few days before and after the day of voting and few days before and after the day of counting), the deployment of security forces (particularly the CAPF) is normally throughout the elections and they remain mobile from one place to another
  • Frequent elections disrupt normal public life: The Parliamentary Standing committee on Personnel, Public grievances, Law and justice noted that “….frequent elections lead to disruption of normal public life and impact the functioning of essential services. Holding of political rallies disrupts road traffic and also leads to noise pollution
  • Frequent elections perpetuate caste, religion and communal issues across the country: In a recent article published in Bloomberg Quint, Dr. S. Y. Quarishi noted that “…elections are polarising events which have accentuated casteism, communalism, corruption and crony capitalism. If the country is perpetually on election mode, there is no respite from these evils. Holding simultaneous elections would certainly help in this context”.
  • Frequent elections adversely impact the focus of governance and policy making: In a recent article, the Hon’ble Minister of Urban Development Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu noted that “…the cycle of continuous elections was not only affecting the developmental process and good governance, but also forcing the political class to typically think in terms of immediate electoral gains rather than focus on long-term programmes and policies for the overall progress of the nation and its people”.
Challenges?
  • Operational feasibility – how to synchronize cycle for the first time, what will be the procedure in case ruling party/coalition loses majority before 5 years, feasibility for the Election Commission to conduct elections at such a massive scale etc.
  • Constitutional issues: Holding SE will require certain requirements such as Curtailment and extension of terms of the House of the People/ State Legislative Assemblies, Amendment to the relevant provisions of the Constitution, Amendment to the Representation of People Act, 1951, ratification by the States to these Constitutional amendments.
  • National and state issues are different, and holding simultaneous elections may affect the judgment of voters and and he/she may vote for the same political party, which in most cases may be larger national parties.
  • Reduce government’s accountability to the people as frequent elections bring the politicians back to the voters and enhance accountability of politicians to the public.
  • It can go against federalism -when an election in a State is postponed until the synchronized phase, President’s rule will have to be imposed in the interim period in that state.
Way forward

A draft white paper released by the Law Commission of India had made few recommendations to overcome the deadlocks that may arise in the future.

Global examples
  • South Africa
    • In South Africa, elections are held for National Assembly, Provincial Legislature and Municipal Councils in a five-year cycle.
  • Sweden
    • Elections to Sweden’s County Councils and Municipal Councils occur simultaneously with the general elections (elections to Riksdag every four years).
  • Belgium
    • In Belgium, one can vote in five different types of elections. Elections for the Federal Parliament are normally held every five years, coinciding with the European (and consequently also regional) elections.
Conclusion

A focused group of stakeholders comprising constitution and subject matter experts, think tanks, government officials and representatives of various political parties should come together and work out appropriate implementation related details.

As is the case with long-term structural reforms, implementing Simultaneous Elections would also cause some short-term pain. However, this would be a stepping stone towards improved governance and a larger initiation of “electoral reforms” – a desperately needed measure to re-boot the Indian polity.

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