Simultaneous Elections

 The Constitution of India has vested in the Election Commission of India the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India. 

However, frequent elections (for state and Centre), according to experts, hamper long-term policymaking because every decision is seen as reason for votes. 

Thus to end this vicious cycle of elections, Chief Election Commissioner has revived the debate on the proposal of simultaneous elections.

Why do we need simultaneous election? What are the problems with multiple elections?

There are frequent elections in one or more states and if the elections to the local bodies are included there is no year without some elections taking place. 

The contention is that with multiple elections, the Model Code of Conduct is in force for much of the time, which prevents the government from initiating new projects and ultimately slows down development work.

It affects stability and economic development as announcements are more for the vote bank than the development of nation..

What are the benefits of simultaneous elections?

 The positives include:

First and foremost stability in governance. This was even mentioned in the 117th report on Reform and Electoral Laws (1999) by the Law Commission of India. 

Second, it would reduce the massive expenditure that has been pegged at around Rs.4,500 crore.

Third, elections in states lead to the imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) puts on hold the entire development programme and activities. If all elections are held in one particular year, it will give a clear four years to the political parties to focus on good governance.

Fourth, continuous election has an impact on the functioning of essential services. The rallies and the like do cause traffic problems as well as loss of productivity. 

Finally simultaneous election they would reduce the type of manpower and resource deployment necessary for the conduct of elections. 

What are the challenges in implementing simultaneous polls?

India has a federal structure and a multi-party democracy where elections are held for State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha separately; the voters are better placed to express their voting choices keeping in mind the two different governments which they would be electing by exercising their franchise. This distinction gets blurred somewhat when voters are made to vote for electing two types of government at the same time, at the same polling booth, and on the same day. There is a tendency among the voters to vote for the same party both for electing the State government as well as the Central government. This is a rule rather than an exception, not based on assumption but on evidence.

Assembly elections are fought on local issues and, in the true spirit of federalism, parties and leaders are judged in the context of their work done in the state. Clubbing them with the general election could lead to a situation where the national narrative submerges the regional story. This could mean a regress for the federal character of the polity, which is best avoided.

However, the biggest challenge to simultaneous polls lies in getting the party political consensus needed to bring an amendment in the law.

What is the way forward?

To avoid frequent elections it is necessary to have stable elected bodies. It is pertinent to note that a no-confidence motion is not mentioned in the Constitution or any law, for that matter. It finds place in Rule 198 of the Rules and Conduct of Business of the Lok Sabha, which states that 50 or more members can move a no-confidence motion. If it succeeds, the government has to resign and if no other party or parties can form the government, premature elections follow. 

The Law Commission of India in its report of 1999 has dealt with the problem of premature and frequent elections. It had recommended an amendment of this rule on the lines of the German Constitution, which provides that the leader of the party who wants to replace the chancellor has to move the no-confidence motion along with the confidence motion. If the motions succeed, the president appoints him as the chancellor. If such an amendment to Rule 198 is made, the Lok Sabha would avoid premature dissolution without diluting the cardinal principle of democracy that is a government with the consent of the peoples’ representatives with periodical elections. It will also be consistent with the notion of collective responsibility of the government to the House as mentioned in Article 75 (3) of the Constitution.

This will bring stability and transparency in the system.