TOPIC: Simultaneous Elections
Topic in syllabus: General Studies 2: Indian Polity
Why in news:
Not even a month after the world’s largest elections in history were over, the debate around “one nation, one election” has been resurrected. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had continued to flag the issue for the last five years, has now called for a meeting on the subject with leaders of other political parties.The Law Commission had recommended simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha and the local bodies as far back as in 1999.
The matter was examined by a Parliamentary Standing Committee in December 2015, and was also referred to the Election Commission of India (EC). Both supported it in principle.
What is meant by simultaneous elections?
- It refers to holding elections to Lok Sabhaand State Legislative Assembliessimultaneously, once in a five year.
- At present, elections to Lok Sabha and to all State Legislative Assemblies are not being held simultaneously.
- Sometimes, elections to some State Legislative Assemblies may happen together with the elections to Lok Sabha. For example, in 2014, elections to State assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim were held along with elections to Lok Sabha.
Merits in the idea:
- It is becoming more and more difficult to contest elections. The 2019 general election was the most expensive on record; a whopping Rs. 60,000 crore was reportedly spent on the whole exercise. Given that there is no cap on the expenditure incurred by political parties, they spend obscene amounts of money in every election.
It is argued that simultaneous elections would help reduce this cost.
- Frequent elections hamper the normal functioning of the government and disrupt civic life. This happens because the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) comes into operation as soon as the EC announces the election dates. This means that the government cannot announce any new schemes during this period. This results in what is often referred to as a policy paralysis.
The government cannot make any new appointments or transfer/ appoint officials. The entire government manpower is involved in the conduct of elections.
- Having simultaneous Parliament, Assembly, civic and Panchayat polls once every five years and completed within a month or so would save money, resources and manpower.
- Elections are the time when communalism, casteism and corruption are at their peak. Frequent elections mean that there is no respite from these evils at all.
- How will “one nation, one election” work in case of premature dissolution of the Lok Sabha, for instance, as happened in late 1990s when the House was dissolved long before its term of five years was over? In such an eventuality, would we also dissolve all State Assemblies?
Similarly, what happens when one of the State Assemblies is dissolved? Will the entire country go to polls again?
This sounds unworkable both in theory and in the practice of democracy.
- Frequent elections ensure that the politicians have to show their faces to voters regularly. The most important consideration is undoubtedly the federal spirit, which, inter alia, requires that local and national issues are not mixed up.
- Simultaneous elections may reduce the expenditure incurred by the Election Commission. But there is no guarantee that expenditure of the political parties will reduce. Political parties may spend entire fund at once rather than in phases.
- Center and States are equal and sovereign within their jurisdiction. Simultaneous elections may reduce the importance of state elections. Thus it affects the concept of federalism.
- Elections are an important part of representative democracy. Simultaneous elections with fixed tenure of five years curtail people’s right to express their confidence or displeasure on the government.
- Simultaneous elections will relegate local issues or issues of state importance to the background. This completely ignores the diversity of the country.
- Holding simultaneous election once in five years may also face logistical challenges. For the free and fair conduct of the elections, security forces need to be deployed in large numbers. Given the current strength of security personnel, this may be a challenging task.
Suggestions to deal with the problems that arise due to frequent elections.
- The problem of uncontrolled campaign expenditure:
1. Introducing a cap on expenditure by political parties.
2. State funding of political parties based on their poll performance also is a suggestion worth considering.
3. Private and corporate fund collection may be banned.
- The poll duration can be reduced from two-three months to about 33 to 35 days if more Central armed police forces can be provided. Violence, social media-related transgressions and issues related to the enforcement of the MCC which are unavoidable in a staggered election will vanish if the election is conducted in a single day.
It is undeniable that simultaneous elections would be a far-reaching electoral reform. If it is to be implemented, there needs to be a solid political consensus, and an agenda of comprehensive electoral reforms should supplement it. The pros and cons need to be appropriately assessed and practical alternatives sincerely considered.
Recently, the debate on simultaneous elections has again come to the forefront. The pros and cons need to be appropriately assessed and practical alternatives sincerely considered. Comment.