RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- ELECTORAL POLITICS- NEED FOR REFORM
India is a vibrant democracy with people electing their representatives at several levels beginning from local bodies and panchayats to the the Parliament. Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu has termed Indian experience with democracy as a remarkable success story. However he also pointed out two distortions which need to be addressed urgently and those are use of enormous money power in politics and elections and the increasing attempts to entice the voters with short term benefits at the cost of long term goals of basic amenities , infrastructure , quality education , healthcare , growth and job opportunities etc
Electoral reforms refer to the initiatives undertaken with an objective to strengthen the electoral processes. They are necessary due to the dynamism displayed in the politics of India. Bringing about reforms from time to time is necessary in order to establish India as a democratic republic as outlined in the preamble and other constitutional principles.
Need for electoral reforms:
- Criminalization of politics: 40% of LS and 23% of RS MPs have criminal background.
- Money and muscle power still influencing election outcomes.
- Electoral participation is only 66% in 16th LS elections. So, there is need to increase electoral participation.
- Women constitute only 11.3% in the 16th LS.
- Role of EC – more Powers should be awarded. Appointments to EC need to be more transparent.
- Political funding – Highly non-transparent and corruption prone zone.
- Victimization of voters – through booth and constituency profiling.
System of election financing in India:
The system is two-tiered – based on parties and candidates. The parties are required to disclose income but not expenditure, while it’s the other way round for candidates.
- The parties, whose main source of income comes from donations by individuals and corporations, use loopholes in the law to avoid disclosing identities of even the big individual donors. As regards corporate donations, despite the availability of tax breaks, most of it is done off-the-books mainly to avoid reprisals in case the opposing party wins.
- On the other hand, the candidates grossly underreport expenditure while actually spending far higher than the legal limits allow. Most of the illegal spending by candidates comes from the assistance given to them by their parties which carry greater financial heft, and have no ceiling on expenditure.
What reforms are needed?
- Prescribe a ceiling for political parties’ expenditure, like that for the candidates.
- Consider state funding of political parties (not elections) with independent audit and a complete ban on private donations.
- Enforce internal democracy and transparency in the working of the political parties. Bring them under the RTI.
- Set up an independent national election fund where all tax-free donations could be made. It could be operated by the ECI or any other independent body.
- Accept the ECI’s proposal to legally empower it to cancel elections where credible evidence of abuse of money has been found.
- Debar persons against whom cases of heinous offences are pending in courts from contesting elections.
- Empower the ECI to de-register those political parties which have not contested any election for 10 years and yet benefited from tax exemptions.
- Make paid news an electoral offence with two years’ imprisonment by declaring it a “corrupt practice” (Sec 100 RP Act) and “undue influence” (Sec 123(2)).
Election commission of India (ECI) suggestions:
- Election commissioners should be given the security of tenure similar to chief election commissioner.
- ECI should have contempt power same as the court in India. Frequent contempt affects the dignity of the institution.
- There should be transparency in the funding of political parties.
- ECI should be given the power to make rules under Representation of people act 1951.
- ECI should have the power to audit the accounts of political parties.
- Election to the legislative assembly and to the parliament should be conducted simultaneously.
- Debar the candidate from contesting election if the criminal cases are pending against him.
- Make paid news an offence.
- Do not allow one candidate to contest from more than one constituency.
The law commission of India’s suggestions:
- The political parties should be brought under the ambit of the RTI.
- There should be internal democracy in political parties.
- greater financial accountability of parties
- opening party affairs to public
- experimenting with State Funding of election model to check black money in elections; among others.
The government has taken following actions as per the recommendations of ECI and law commission-
- NOTA was introduced to provide an alternative to the voters.
- Limitation on funding to political parties, Electoral bond was introduced to improve the transparency in electoral funding.
However, on Govt’s part, except for the recent proposal for electoral bonds and the ceiling on cash donations from anonymous sources, the Parliament has rejected other proposals with following excuses:
- Under vindictive politics candidates often try to sabotage the rival candidates with false complaints
- EC cannot be a body at par with the judiciary to try for contempt
- suggesting RoPA to be more than sufficient a measure to tame erring legislators etc.
- We have a very successful experience with democracy over the last 70 years but Vice- President’s concerns are also very genuine.
- Political parties have to rise on this occasion and maintain self disciple.
- There are many instances where people have rejected money and freebies but instead of people rejecting, the political parties should compete with each other on this issue.
- Legislation will also not do much.
- Need to educate people more and more to not indulge in this.
- There should be limits on spending of political parties too.
However, there is a need of more innovative reforms to ensure – internal democracy, financial accountability in parties. A slew of reforms like use of vote- totaliser machines to protect voters privacy, simultaneous elections, penal provisions for compliance of Sec 29C, statutory backing to MCC , bringing political parties in RTI ambit, further increasing transparency in pol-funding , measures to increase political participation,etc. are needed for a strengthening our democracy.