Simultaneous elections

Simultaneous elections of Lok Sabha and State assemblies:
  • Proposed by PM to end vicious cycle of elections in country. Supported by President.
  • The parliamentary standing committee on law and personnel has also strongly recommended holding of simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections all over the country
  • Law Commission in its 170th report titled Reform of Electoral Laws (1999) had suggested holding simultaneous elections at all levels for stability in governance

 

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Has it ever happened?
  • After the Constitution came into being in 1950, elections to the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies were held simultaneously in 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967 and all the newly elected legislative bodies were constituted between March and April in each of these years.
  • However, in 1967 and 1970 due to fractured mandates and unstable governments, simultaneous elections could not be conducted after that.
Negatives of current system:
  • Frequent elections bring to a standstill normal functioning of the government and life of the citizens and bring a heavy recurring cost.
  • As soon as the Election Commission announces the poll dates, the model code of conduct (MCC) comes into operation. This means that the government cannot announce any new schemes, make any new appointments, transfers or postings without EC approval. Ministers get busy in the election campaign, the district administration machinery gets totally focused on elections
  • Cost is another major issue. The costs of election have gone up enormously. It has two components — the cost of management to the EC/ government and the cost to candidates and political parties. Though there are no exact estimates, one guesstimate puts it at Rs 4,500 crore. The bigger problem is the havoc played by the money power of political parties and contestants. Though the law prescribes a ceiling on the expenditure of candidates, the fact is that it is violated with impunity.
  • Another consequence of frequent elections is the aggravation of vices like communalism, casteism, corruption (vote-buying and fund-raising) and crony capitalism. If the country is perpetually in election mode, there is no respite from these evils.
Positives of current system:
  • One, politicians, who tend to forget voters after the elections for five years have to return to them. This enhances accountability, keeps them on their toes.
  • Two, elections give a boost to the economy at the grassroots level, creating work opportunities for lakhs of people.
  • Three, there are some environmental benefits also that flow out of the rigorous enforcement of public discipline like non-defacement of private and public property, noise and air pollution, ban on plastics, etc.
  • Four, local and national issues do not get mixed up to distort priorities. In voters’ minds, local issues overtake wider state and national issues
  • It also ensures that the mood of the nation at a particular moment does not hand over political power across a three-tiered democratic structure to one dispensation or individual.
What Constitution says?
  • Article 83(2) of the Constitution requires that the Lok Sabha be in existence for five years from the date of its first meeting, unless dissolved earlier, and, thereafter, a fresh election would have to be conducted.
  • Similarly, Article 172 of the Constitution requires that the state legislatures continue for five years, unless dissolved earlier.
  • So phrase, “unless dissolved earlier”, found in the text of these two articles is against the notion of simultaneous elections in a big country like India as it is not possible to ensure simultaneous dissolution of governments.
Way Out:
An alternative and practicable method is holding elections in two phases. Elections of some assemblies can be held at mid-term of Lok Sabha and remaining with the end of tenure of Lok Sabha. For this, the terms of some legislative assemblies may need to be extended while some of them may need to be curtailed. Election Commission is empowered by the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to call an election six months prior to the end of the normal term of the Lok Sabha or any state assembly.
Conclusion:
Simultaneous polls—Lok Sabha, states and local bodies—could be beneficial for both governance and the business model of politics. It will address the issue of delayed decisions that hurt the economy. Fewer polls will bring down the funding cost of frequent polls for parties. Additionally, simultaneous polls will enable parties to create capacity, vertically integrate interests. However, greater consensus is needed to proceed further on this.