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Not difficult to amend RP Act

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Electoral Reforms

Not difficult to amend RP Act

EC is unable to conduct elections simultaneously even in four or five states because of security, logistics and local conditions. Hence the compulsion to conduct elections in multi phases. Simultaneous elections for Parliament and assemblies seem to be a distant dream.

Elections Have Been announced by the Election Commission (EC) for four states and one Union Territory. It is unfortunate that we are not able to conduct elections even now on a single day in a single phase.

While we as a nation we have reason to be proud for holding timely elections as per Constitutional schedule, it is regrettable that the activities of our political parties do not inspire credibility in the conduct of free and fair elections.  This is because of the proliferation of political parties and their unregulated practices.

Election reforms are indeed the crying need. Although a number of recommendations have been made for improving the quality of conduct of elections, political parties have not evinced interest in implementing the well-considered recommendations made by the Election Commission of India, Law Commission of India, Constitution Review Committee and some respectable non-governmental organisations.

Need for flawless voters’ register

The most important step in the conduct of elections is to have a flawless voters’ register.  Although the Election Commission has made improvements from time to time in the preparation of the voters’ register, there is scope for improvement in this regard. A solution is to have a kiosk in each legislative constituency on 24×7 basis to provide for easy registration by an eligible voter. But the old system still continues: of door-to-door verification once in five years and annual, ad hoc revision on the basis of requests received from voters.  Since the annual revision is left to the initiative of voters, very often the names of dead voters or voters migrating from a constituency, do not get deleted giving scope for  impersonation.  In one of the countries in West Indies there is a system according to which the voter register is prepared from the records of students studying in High School verified for eligibility of his/her age.  Similarly, there should be a system requiring the Registrar of Births and Deaths to report annually to the district election authority details of the births and deaths for updating voters’ register for both purposes of inclusion and exclusion.  Such changes can improve the credibility of the voters’ register crucial for every citizen to exercise his/her vote.

Stipulate a minimum 33.33 per cent of votes polled to declare the winner…

Another improvement worth consideration (not possible to implement for the ensuing election) is the need to stipulate a minimum of 33.33 per cent of votes polled to be declared winner. This will eliminate a candidate getting elected with even 20 per cent of votes polled. S/he is expected to represent the remaining 80 per cent who had not voted for the candidate! In some countries there is a provision in law that a winner should have a minimum of 50 per cent of votes polled; but it may not be possible in India to improve to this level at one stroke.  Such a change will arrest the proliferation of political parties which survive the electoral battle even winning just two or three seats, thanks to composition of the dominant caste, community or linguistic number of the voters.

Need for law to regulate political parties…

There is need to enact a comprehensive law to regulate political parties in the same manner the company law regulates the formation and functioning of a limited company.  Such a law should have regulatory provisions relating to the content of party manifestos, transparent financial and accounting procedures, settlement of intra-party disputes, model code of conduct relating to inter-party conflicts, avoidance of hatred and violence, including personal attacks, provision for imposing monetary penalties, disqualification of voters/candidates in case of serious violations…  Such a law exists in several countries; unfortunately we have not been able to have a law relating to political parties recommended by Justice Venkatachaliah Constitution Review Committee.

Overhaul funding…

The present system of funding political parties needs to be completely overhauled.  The recent introduction of bearer bonds for donations to political parties needs to be repealed as it does not provide for transparency of corporate donations.  The present system allows an obnoxious nexus between donors, especially corporate donors and political parties; this can affect or influence policy decisions of the government.  The best possible solution can be to set up a National Election Fund to which donors, corporates and non-corporates, can contribute availing 100 per cent tax rebates. The fund should be administered by the Election Commission drawing up suitable guidelines after consultations with the recognised political parties.

Prevent criminals from contesting elections…

There is the imperative to bring in a suitable provision in law to prevent criminals from contesting elections, especially when the criminals have been charged for serious offences with prima facie charges framed and being adjudicated at a court of competent jurisdiction.  Just as civil servants are suspended when serious irregularities in their conduct were investigated, candidates can be deprived of their contesting rights till the verdicts of the court are delivered.  The right to contest is not a constitutional right and can, therefore, be legislatively suspended in case of grave violations.  In order to avoid undue delays, such cases should be tried in fast-track courts and completed within a year.

Print, social  and electronic media need to be regulated to ensure a level playing field. In recent times, there has been a spurt in resort to these channels for political purposes.  If this is not regulated at an early stage, the quality of democracy will be seriously damaged by misuse of these channels. One possible solution could be to empower the Election Commission to impose monetary penalties and to  derecognise/deregister political parties for offensive presentations.

Many of the reforms can be introduced by amending the Representation of Peoples Act with a simple majority. Political parties accept the need for electoral reforms to improve the quality of our democracy, but none of these has taken any initiative while in power or out of power to canvas for specific electoral reforms. They seem to be content with the status quo that provides free scope for electoral irregularities.

Author is a former Chief Election Commissioner of India.

 

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