Electoral Reforms

Election Commission of India
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In June this year (2011), 7th Regional Consultation on Electoral Reforms  was held in Guwahati. A number of measures have been proposed by various committees on different issues.  I am just copying them from its press release for ready reference. These measures, including the ones proposed by previous Committees, on the issue of Electoral Reforms are:

Criminalisation of Politics

  • Disclosure of criminal antecedents of candidates: more stringent punishment for non-compliance, concealing information, or providing wrong information
  • Restrictions on eligibility of candidates with criminal cases pending against them
  • Negative or Neutral Voting option to allow voters to reject all candidates if none are found desirable.

Financing of Elections

  • Raising or elimination of official limits on campaign expenditure
  • More stringent enforcement of disclosure of assets and liabilities of candidates and provision for audit by a special authority
  • Curbing the cost of campaigning – (1) ban on certain types of campaign materials and methods(2) holding state and parliamentary elections simultaneously, (3) reducing campaign periods, and (4) barring candidates from contesting elections from multiple constituencies
  • State funding of elections

Conduct and Better Management of Elections

  • Prevention of irregularities in electoral rolls – provision for common and automated electoral rolls between State Election Commissions and Election Commission of India
  • Prevention of rigging through muscle power and intimidation – (1) use of electronic surveillance equipment, and (2) power to Election Commission to order a fresh election, void the election results, or order a re-poll upon report of returning officers
  • Provide for the use of ‘totalizer’ for counting of votes cast at more than one polling station where EVMs are used, so that the trend of voting in individual polling station areas does not get divulged and the electors may not be subjected to any harassment or victimization on that account
  • Reduction in proliferation of candidates – (1) increase deposit required to contest elections or give election Commission power to revise deposit amount before each election, (2) special measures to deter independent and non-serious candidates
  • Measures to strengthen Election Commission – (1) Constitutional protection of all members of Election Commission, (2) measures to insulate Election Commission Secretariat from outside influence, (3) treat the budget of the Election Commission as “charged” on the Consolidated Fund of India
  • Restrictions on Government sponsored advertisements – (1) advertisements of achievements of the governments (Central or State) should be prohibited for a period of six months prior to the date of expiry of the term of the House or from date of dissolution of the House for premature elections, and (2) symbols and photographs of leaders of specific parties should be prohibited from being displayed in such advertisements
  • Restriction on contesting elections from more than one constituency
  • Amendment of law to provide for filing of election petition even against defeated candidates on the ground of corrupt practice
  • Restrictions on opinion polls
  • Prohibition on campaigning during final 48 hours before polling, including newspaper advertisements and house-to-house visits
  • Ban on transfer of officers likely to serve elections six months prior to date of expiry of  a fixed term or from date of dissolution of the House (in case of premature dissolution)
  • False declaration in connection with conduct of elections to be an offence  (such as false complaints of booth capturing or conduct of election officials)
  • Enhancement of  punishment for electoral offences (undue influence, bribery, publishing a false statement in connection with an election, incurring or authorizing expenditure for promoting the election prospects of a candidate)
  • Restoring the cycle of biennial retirement in the Rajya Sabha/Legislative Councils to ensure retirement of 1/3rd of the members after every two years
  • Expenditure ceiling for election to Council Constituencies
  • Provision for investigation of misuse of religion for electoral gain by political parties
  • Re-examination of the provision of Teachers’ and Graduate Constituencies in Legislative Councils
  • Prevention of  victimization of officers drafted for election duties – consultation with the Election Commission and its concurrence should be made compulsory before initiating any disciplinary/legal proceedings
  • Disqualification period of candidates for failure to lodge election expenses be extended from 3 years to 5 years.

Regulating Political Parties

  • Amendment to Representation  of the People Act, 1951 to authorising the Election Commission to issue necessary orders regulating registration and de-registration of political parties
  • Election Commission should progressively increase the threshold criterion for recognition
  • Provide strict rules regulating necessary provisions in rules and by-laws of parties  to qualify for registration

Auditing of Finances of Political Parties

  • Compulsory annual publishing of accounts by political parties
  • Auditing of accounts of  political parties by Comptroller and Auditor General
  • Any receipt by a political party either directly or through the executives or the party functionaries should be deposited in the Bank Accounts  of such parties
  • All payments by the political party exceeding Rs. 20,000/- to a person should be made by crossed account payee cheque
  • All contributions or donations or gifts by any person to a party functionary other than those by his/her relative(s) shall be deemed as receipts of the political party and it will be accounted for by the political party
  • Penalties for non-compliance in publishing accounts or furnishing false financial information, including fines and/or deregistration

Adjudication of Election Disputes

  • Special election benches designated for election petitions only should be formed in the High Court
  • Special Election Tribunals should be constituted at the regional level under article 329B of the Constitution to ensure speedy disposal of election petitions and disputes within a stipulated period of six months, comprising a High Court judge and a senior civil servant with at least 5 years experience in the conduct of elections (not below the rank of an Additional Secretary to the Government of India/Principal Secretary of a State Government)

Review of Anti-Defection Law

  • Penalties for disqualification on grounds of defection should be decided by the President/Governor concerned under the advice of the Election Commission, instead of relying on the objectivity of the decision from the Speaker.

Suggestions made by Navin Chawla, Former Election commissioner

Aberrations in the electoral system are

  • Disregard for expenditure limits,
  • Criminality among some candidates and
  • Paid news

Expressing optimism that the growing impatience of the youth with the major problems that beset the electoral system would lead to changes

Suggestions

  • For limiting expenditure, there ought to be a combination of regulatory and self-regulatory mechanisms. Most candidates would be income tax assessees and possess Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards. This fact could be utilised to monitor their expenses through the income tax authorities themselves.
  • Candidates can open accounts, and expenses out of it can be scrutinised by the respective Income Tax Officers. The ITO’s views can be given at the first instance to the EC, which also has its own observers.
  • With their help, the EC should take a final view which, in any case, will be justifiable State funding, doing away with the limit or raising it by two or three times were all options, but there was little unanimity
  • Disqualifying those against who charges had been framed for ‘heinous offences’ such as murder, attempt to murder and rape that could attract prison terms of five years and above
  • If only political parties gave up the tendency to see ‘winnability’ as the sole criterion for selecting candidates, and saw the electoral arena as a level playing field from which criminality ought to be eased out, they could address this problem
  • By-elections could be a true test of public opinion. It will be less than fair if we don’t hold them or deny representation to any constituency
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One thought on “Electoral Reforms

  1. Pingback: The need for integrity & accountability in elected officials - noomizo

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