Topic: Model Code of Conduct comes into effect
Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2 : Indian Polity
Recently the Election Commission announced the dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. With this announcement, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has comes into force.
What is the Model Code of Conduct?
- The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections, to ensure free and fair elections.
- This is in keeping with Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives the Election Commission the power to supervise elections to the Parliament and state legislatures.
- The MCC is operational from the date that the election schedule is announced till the date that results are announced.
- Thus, for the general elections this year, the MCC came into force on March 10, 2019, when the election schedule was announced, and will operate till May 23, 2019, when the final results will be announced.
How has the Model Code of Conduct evolved over time?
- Evolution of the MCC and its implementation since 1967
- In 1968, the Election Commission held meetings with political parties at State level and circulated the Code of Conduct to observe minimum standard of behavior to ensure free and fair elections.
- In 1971-72, during General Election to the House of the People/State Legislative Assemblies the Commission circulated the Code again.
- At the time of general elections to some State Assemblies in 1974, the Commission issued the code of conduct to the political parties in those States.
- The Commission also suggested constituting committees at district level headed by the District Collector and comprising representatives of political parties as members for considering cases of violation of the code and ensuring its compliance by all parties and candidates.
- For the 1977 Lok Sabha general election, the Code was again circulated to the political parties.
- In 1979, Election Commission, in consultation with the political parties further amplified the code, adding a new Section placing restrictions on the “Party in power” so as to prevent cases of abuse of position of power to get undue advantage over other parties and candidates.
- In 1991, the code was consolidated and re-issued in its present form.
Key provisions of the Model Code of Conduct:
The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, party in power, and election manifestos. Major provisions of the MCC are outlined below.
- General Conduct: Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work. Activities such as:
- using caste and communal feelings to secure votes,
- criticizing candidates on the basis of unverified reports,
- bribing or intimidation of voters, and
- Organizing demonstrations or picketing outside houses of persons to protest against their opinions, are prohibited.
- Meetings: Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
- Processions: If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash. Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
- Polling day: All authorized party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges. These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.
- Polling booths: Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the Election Commission, will be allowed to enter polling booths.
- Observers: The Election Commission will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
- Party in power: The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power. Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.
- Election manifestos: Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.
What changes have been recommended in relation to the MCC since the last general elections?
- 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/media 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.
- It noted that this gives an advantage to the ruling party to issue government sponsored advertisements that highlights its achievements, which gives it an undue advantage over other parties and candidates.
- 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.
Is the Model Code of Conduct legally binding?
- The MCC is not enforceable by law.
- However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
- The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding; stating that elections must be completed within a relatively short time (close to 45 days), and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law.
- On the other hand, in 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the MCC legally binding.
- In a report on electoral reforms, the Standing Committee observed that most provisions of the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, mentioned above.
- It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
What if violated?
- The ECI can issue a notice to a politician or a party for alleged breach of the MCC either on its own or on the basis of a complaint by another party or individual.
- Once a notice is issued, the person or party must reply in writing either accepting fault and tendering an unconditional apology or rebutting the allegation.
- In the latter case, if the person or party is found guilty subsequently, he/it can attract a written censure from the ECI something that many see as a mere slap on the wrist.
- However, in extreme cases, like a candidate using money/liquor to influence votes or trying to divide voters in the name of religion or caste, the ECI can also order registration of a criminal case under IPC or IT Act.
- In case of a hate speech, a complaint can be filed under the IPC and CrPC; there are laws against the misuse of a religious place for seeking votes, etc.
What do you understand by Model Code of Conduct? Briefly discuss the salient features.