Model code of conduct

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    14th Mar, 2019

Issue

Context:

  • Model code of conduct comes into effect across country with the announcement of LS elections.
  • Election Commission has also ordered that social media posts of a poster showing Wing Commander Abhinandan, shared by a BJP leader, be taken down.

About:

What is model code of Conduct?

  • It is a consensus document i.e. political parties have themselves agreed to keep their conduct during elections in check, and to work within the code.
  • Article 324 of the Constitution gives the EC the power to monitor the Centre, all the state governments, all the candidates and their respective political parties. The Election Commission of India releases these guidelines to conduct free and fair election in the country.
  • Candidates and parties should-
  1. Show respect to their opponents
  2. Criticise their policies and programmes constructively
  3. Not resort to mudslinging and personal attacks
  • At the time of Lok Sabha elections, both the Union and state governments are covered.
  • It contains 8 parts:
  • Part 1: Deals with general precepts of good behaviour expected from candidates and political parties.
  • Part 2 and 3: Focus on public meetings and processions.
  • Part 4 and 5: Describe how political parties and candidates should conduct themselves on the day of polling and at the polling booths.
  • Part 6: About authority appointed by the EC to receive complaints on violations of the MCC.
  • Part 7: About the political party in power.
  • Part 8: Manifestos must be pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court.

Background:

  • Kerala was the first state to adopt a code of conduct for elections. It did so in 1960 assembly elections.
  • The Election Commission decided to emulate Kerala’s example and circulate the draft among all recognised parties and the state governments for the Lok Sabha elections 1962.
  • In 1974, the EC released a formal Model Code of Conduct.
  • The EC, just before the 1979 Lok Sabha elections, released a revised Model Code with seven parts, with one part devoted to the party in power and what it could and could not do once elections were announced.
  • In 2014, EC introduced Part VIII on manifestos, pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court.

Analysis

MCC provisions for the political party in power:

  • It forbids central and state government ministers from using official machinery for election work and combining official visits with electioneering.
  • The government cannot announce any financial grants, promise construction of roads or other facilities.
  • It can’t make any ad hoc appointments in government or public undertaking during the time the code is in force.
  • Ministers can’t enter any polling station or counting centre except in their capacity as a voter or a candidate.

But the code does not stand in the way of on-going schemes of development work or welfare, relief and rehabilitation measures meant for people suffering from drought, floods and other natural calamities. EC forbids use of these works for election propaganda.

Social media under MCC:

  • In 2013 the EC laid down guidelines to regulate the use of social media by the parties and candidates.
  • Under it, candidates have to provide their email address and details of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
  • Candidates have to add the expenditure on advertisements posted on social media to their overall expenditure for the election.

Extent of MCC application period:

  • The code application starts from the day of announcement of election schedule and it lasts till the EC notifies the list of elected representatives after counting of votes.
  • The commission can not make announcement more than three weeks ahead of issuing the formal notification of election.

Legality of MCC:

  • It is not a legally enforceable document.
  • The commission usually uses moral sanction to get political parties and candidates to fall in line.
  • The commission is of the opinion that making the MCC legally enforceable would be self-defeating because any violation must be responded to quickly – and this will not be possible it the matter goes to court.
  • Instances of EC taking punitive actions in past:
    • In the Assembly elections of Madhya Pradesh in 2003 the then Chief Minister of Punjab used state government aircraft to travel from Chandigarh to Indore for an official purpose. From there he travelled to Bhopal to campaign. The EC forced him to pay the government the cost of entire air journey from Chandigarh to Bhopal and back.
    • In 2013, the EC issued a notice to Union Minister Balram Naik for announcing a Rs 20 crore scheme for the construction of hostels specifically for OBC students in Madhya Pradesh, where polls had already begun. He was asked to reply explaining why punitive action should not be taken against him for violating the EC model code of conduct.
    • In Lok Sabha elections of 2014, EC banned BJP leader and Samajwadi Party leader from campaigning in Uttar Pradesh for making provocative and prejudicial statements while canvassing.

Recent recommendations to improve the existing MCC:

  • In 2015, the Law Commission in its report on Electoral Reforms, noted that the MCC prohibits the issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in newspapers during the election period. However, it observed that since the MCC comes into operation only from the date on which the Commission announces elections, the government can release advertisements prior to the announcement of elections giving an advantage to the ruling party.
  • Therefore, the Commission recommended that a restriction should be imposed on government-sponsored advertisements for up to six months prior to the date of expiry of the House/Assembly.
  • However, it stated that an exception may be carved out for advertisements highlighting the government's poverty alleviation programmes or any health related schemes.

Way Forward:

  • MCC should be provided with statutory backing. It should be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The legal provisions will make the MCC more powerful.
  • There should be establishment of special fast track courts to solve the election MCC violation cases at a faster rate.
  • The law commission recommendation should be implemented. It will save the unnecessary spending of public money. That money instead should be used for the welfare of the people.
  • Public need to be made more aware of the MCC, so they could punish those parties and candidates who does not adhere to it.
  • The parties and candidates should themselves practice free and fair election campaign without the need of code enforcement body i.e. the Election Commission.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

Model Code of Conduct has improved a lot since its inception in 1974, in this context, discuss the new challenges coming up before the commission and how it should be dealt with.

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