Insights into Editorial: EC has a Plan B for simultaneous polls: One year, one election
Recently, the Election Commission (EC) has suggested “one year one election” as an alternative to Prime Minister pitch for “one nation one election”.
The poll panel floated the idea in its response to a letter from the Law Commission in which the Law Commission had sought the EC’s views on aligning all state elections with the Lok Sabha polls.
Elections in India signify the world’s largest democratic exercise but on the other hand frequent elections across the country consume a significant amount of resources and divert much of the time of the political parties at the central level.
As mentioned above, The PM has suggested many times, the idea of one nation one election. And recently Election Commission presented the idea of one year one election in place of one nation one election.
Arguments in support of holding Simultaneous Elections
In 79th Report of the Department-related Parliamentary Committee on the‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies’ says that the holding of simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies would reduce:
- The massive expenditurethat is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections;
- The policy paralysisthat results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time;
- Impact on delivery of essential services;
- Burden on crucial manpowerthat is deployed during election time;
- The disruption to normal public lifeassociated with elections, such as increased traffic and noise pollution.
Law Commission stance:
The Justice B P Jeevan Reddy-headed Law Commission said in its 170th Report in May 1999 that “we must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once”.
Presently, The Law Commission had asked for the EC’s position on five Constitutional issues, and 15 sociopolitical and economic issues, that need to be addressed before the government can gear up to hold simultaneous polls.
The Law Commission’s “Draft working paper — Simultaneous Elections — Constitution and Legal Perspectives”, which has been sent to the Union Law Ministry, states: “Simultaneous elections may be restored in the nation by amending the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act 1951 and Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha and those of the State Legislative Assemblies.
Election Commission on Simultaneous Polls:
The Election Commission had suggested as early as in 1983 that a system should be evolved so that elections to Lok Sabha and state legislative Assemblies could be held simultaneously.
While the EC has reiterated its support for holding simultaneous polls, provided the legal and financial challenges are overcome, it is also learnt to have alternatively suggested that all the elections due in a year may be held together.
Currently, the Commission conducts elections together for states where the term of assemblies end within a few months of each other. This is because Section 15 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibits the EC from notifying elections more than six months before the term of a state assembly is about to expire.
According to sources, accomplishing “one year one election” will be easier as it doesn’t require as many legal amendments as simultaneous polls for which the Centre will have to make five amendments to the Constitution.
According to the EC, Articles in our Constitution which are to be tweaked are,
Article 83, which deals with the duration of Houses of Parliament, along with Article 85 (dissolution of Lok Sabha by the President), Article 172 (duration of state legislatures), Article 174 (dissolution of state assemblies) and Article 356 (President’s Rule), to facilitate simultaneous polls.
Former legal advisor to EC, said the suggestion for “one year one election” can be executed by amending Section 15 of the RP Act 1951. If the six-month stipulation is extended to nine or 10 months, elections to all states, whose term is expiring in one year, can be held together.
Consequences of Aligning and simultaneous Elections
Centralization of Polity:
Political incentives for aligning elections is to increase the extent to which national politics dominates state-level electoral contests, or in other words to centralise political life.
It would attempt to reverse the trend of the last several decades in which state politics has been the pre-eminent arena of Indian politics. Evidence from other countries suggests that simultaneous elections do indeed have a nationalising effect on political competition.
The trend of choosing the same party at the state and the centre has gone from 68 per cent in 1999 to 77 per cent in 2004 to 76 per cent in 2009 and 86 per cent in 2014.
Evidence from countries like Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Germany, the US and Europe supports the idea that elections that are held simultaneously produce greater alignment between national and regional election outcome.
In his first address to Parliament, President of India, Ram Nath Kovind marked the beginning of the Budget session by making a strong pitch for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
President of India, Ram Nath Kovind’s remarks echoed Prime Minister Modi who has been advocating simultaneous polls citing expenses, deployment of forces and other arrangements while pointing out that elections consume time, energy and money.
If all elections in a year are clubbed together, the terms of state assemblies, which are expiring later in the year, need not be curtailed. They can complete their term that year and the new government can be sworn in after that.
The EC expressed its support for simultaneous elections to the Parliament and State Assemblies in 2016. On May this year, it reiterated its support for the idea in a meeting with members of the Law Commission.
No doubt, conducting concurrent elections is a humongous logistical task in terms of deployment of personnel, EVMs and other material. But the time has come to make a beginning and ensure political and administrative stability both at the Central and State levels for the country to march unhindered on the path to progress.
Once a political consensus is built on the issue, constitutional amendments could be put in place for fixed tenure of the legislative bodies and the process kick-started.
Election Commission’s idea of “one year one election” will better suited as it will require fewer amendments to the constitution, it will respect the essence of the exercise of popular will, unlike one nation one election which prioritizes economic costs of elections over the exercise itself, it will avoid clubbing of national and state issues, it will not disturb federalism much, not much issues generated by emergencies like need to hold by-election etc will be addressed by this option.