How effective is Election Commission in ensuring fair elections?
Polity & Governance
24th Apr, 2019
- The Supreme Court has examined the scope of powers of Election Commission of India to deal with political leaders and candidates violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).
- Of late, Political leaders have been indulging in hate speeches and appealing for votes on the basis of religion and caste.
- Such scenarios polarize the otherwise “free and fair” election environment and displace goals of “by the people” substantive democracy.
- Indian elections represent one of the largest and most complex election management exercises in the world.
- In a vast country like India starting from the preparation of schedule and sequencing of elections in various states till the date of counting it has to be a focused exercise involving an election machinery of 11 million plus people.
- With enormous logistical arrangement in mind, the ECI also has a task – to instill confidence and un-conditional support to realize free and fair electoral exercise.
What is Model Code of Conduct (MCC)?
The purpose of MCC is to ensure that ruling parties, at the Centre and in the States, do not misuse their ‘position of advantage’ to gain an unfair edge.
Some important MCC pointers are:
- No party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.
- Criticism of other political parties, when made, shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work. Parties and Candidates shall refrain from criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties.
- There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes.
- Mosques, Churches, Temples or other places of worship shall not be used as forum for election propaganda.
- All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are “corrupt practices” and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters, intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 meters of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll.
- The party or candidate shall inform the local police authorities of the venue and time any proposed meeting well in time so as to enable the police to make necessary arrangements for controlling traffic and maintaining peace and order.
- A Party or candidate shall ascertain in advance if there is any restrictive or prohibitory order in force in the place proposed for the meeting if such orders exist, they shall be followed strictly. If any exemption is required from such orders, it shall be applied for and obtained well in time.
- Organizers of a meeting shall invariably seek the assistance of the police on duty for dealing with persons disturbing a meeting or otherwise attempting to create disorder. Organizers themselves shall not take action against such persons.
- A Party or candidate organizing a procession shall decide before hand (and give advance intimation to the local police authorities) the time and place of the starting of the procession, the route to be followed and the time and place at which the procession will terminate. There shall ordinary be no deviation from the programme.
- The organizers shall ascertain if any restrictive orders are in force in the localities through which the procession has to pass, and shall comply with the restrictions unless exempted specially by the competent authority.
- If two or more political parties or candidates propose to take processions over the same route or parts thereof at about the same time, the organizers shall establish contact well in advance and decide upon the measures to be taken to see that the processions do not clash or cause hindrance to traffic. The assistance of the local police shall be availed of for arriving at a satisfactory arrangement. For this purpose the parties shall contact the police at the earliest opportunity.
- The Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution enjoin upon the State to frame various welfare measures for the citizens and therefore there can be no objection to the promise of such welfare measures in election manifestos. However, political parties should avoid making those promises which are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters in exercising their franchise.
Is MCC legally enforceable?
- The MCC is not enforceable by law.
- However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Should the MCC be enacted into a law?
- If the MCC is made a law, some comma or some phrase somewhere will be interpreted ambiguously and it will end up in the courts.
- If MCC is made a law, it will be taken away from the EC’s discretion and it will be given to the judiciary.
- Judiciary is known for procedural boundness and delay in delivery – something which will prove detrimental to the whole rationale behind electoral exercise.
- This is because, MCC acts like a fire brigade — if there is fire, it has to be extinguished right then and not after five or 10 years.
How effective is MCC in its current version?
- The moral authority of the model code is very strong and the leaders are afraid of getting a notice under the model code.
- Anything which is in the model code is also part of different laws, and action is simultaneously taken under the laws also.
What other reforms are essential to make ECI more effective?
- The appointment system to the EC must improve.
- The appointment should be made by either a collegium or by the parliamentary committees and there must be a parliamentary endorsement.
- Empower ECI to de-register political parties.
- All matters pertaining to ‘election funding’ must be kept under the purview of ECI.
- Match ECI’s adjudicatory and disciplinary activities to that of UPSC.
How effective is Election Commission of India in ensuring fair elections
- ECI has evolved over the ages.
- With advent of Universal adult suffrage from phase 1 (1950-1967), ECI effectively dealt with challenges such as illiteracy and creating awareness.
- The Commission approaches the government well in advance to obtain the names of senior officers for the purpose of appointment as observers before any election.
- Once the names are received, the officers are called for a briefing meeting to make them aware about the system of election and the points where they should focus while in field.
- Via SVEEP, ECI engages more and more voters in the electoral process and ensure their ethical and inducement-free participation in voting.
- The internal system of monitoring by neutral and senior government officers has become time tested and been proving to be very useful during elections.
During elections, Political parties and leaders appeal to voters by igniting caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, Churches, Temples or other places of worship are used as forum for election propaganda. Within this context, evaluate role of Election Commission in curbing such electoral malpractices.