By Madalsa Jain, Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam.
Chaired by Justice B.S. Chauhan, Law Commission of India released its draft report on simultaneous elections on 30th August, 2018, which was submitted to the Law Ministry. The concept of ‘One Nation, One Election’ gave birth to the debate of simultaneous elections. The Commission analyzed the legal and constitutional gray areas with respect to the conduct of simultaneous polls.
The Indian Constitution in Part XI refers to India as a ‘Union of States’ which specifies the relations between the Union and the States. The Constitution lays down three lists, that are, Center, State and Concurrent. Center List only specifies matters that are dealt with by the Center alone. State List stipulates matters which are under the governance of all States. The Concurrent List enlists the matters which are a concern of both the Center and the States, due to which both levels of governments have a say in those matters with respect to their interests. Both Center and State level governments have their own power to hold, to make laws and to execute the same. That said, the Constitution of India does not provide for simultaneous elections. Hence, to conduct the same, certain amendments are required to be made in the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the Rules of Procedure for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
As analyzed by the Law Commission, the following are some of the advantages of conducting simultaneous elections:
- The procedure of conducting simultaneous Lok Sabha and State Assembly polls will save public money, which in turn can be put to other better uses.
- The burden on Election Commission and security forces which make sure that elections run smoothly will be reduced.
- Simultaneous elections will ensure timely implementation of government policies.
- Once simultaneous elections are conducted it will also ensure that the administrative machinery is engaged in development activities and not just electioneering.
The Commission suggested three alternatives in order to synchronize the elections in India:
- The first recommendation was to either advance or postpone election timings in certain States so that all elections of State Assemblies and Lok Sabha are held together.
- Elections could be held twice every five years.
- If none of the alternatives work and no elections can be conducted together, then the Law Commission suggested that all elections scheduled in the same calendar year can be conducted together.
On a moral ground, continuous campaigns for regional elections and national leaders’ active involvement in them, serves as a distraction from the objectives that they have been elected to work for. Since citizens elect their representatives to work for the betterment of the country, the political parties should make it a point to focus on the goals the citizens expect them to fulfill. Rallies for regional elections tend to deviate the national leaders from taking major developmental steps.
A procedural advantage of conducting simultaneous elections would be in relation to the Model Code of Conduct. Election Commission of India publishes the Model Code of Conduct before a scheduled poll, which prohibits the leaders from launching new welfare schemes or promoting a particular religion which might manipulate the voters. Simultaneous elections will make it easier for the administrative body to implement the Code of Conduct once and not multiple times throughout the year. Even though it will take up more machinery and staff, ensuring free and fair elections might prove to be relatively easier for the Election Commission.
A major criticism of simultaneous polling is that the idea threatens the federal structure of the country. One of the salient features of federalism is the promotion of more efficiency in governance, better stability and balance between the Center and States. In case of simultaneous elections, there may be a possibility for the national parties gaining more momentum compared to some regional parties since the leaders of the national parties could simultaneously rally for national as well as regional elections. As a result of this, national issues may get priority over regional issues which are equally important. Thus the format of simultaneous polls might hamper the working of regional parties, which will in turn affect the federal structure of the country, because if the regional parties that work on regional issues are not heard properly or not heeded to by the public, the entire point of having a federal structure and different elections for States and the Center will be redundant.
For the administrative machinery that would be in charge of simultaneous polls, one of the major concerns, would be multiple voter registrations which might hamper the clear, smooth and fair functioning of the elections. Migrant voters may also face problems since they would be enrolled in one place but would cast their votes someplace else. Considering that the voters will be enrolled for both Center and State elections at the same time, there is more scope for confusion and mistakes which can result in deletion of many voters’ names from the list, need for the voters to be present at different polling booths for their vote to be considered valid etc. From a psychological point of view, it is also possible that many citizens will choose to vote for the same party in both the State and the Centre in case of simultaneous elections.
There is also a flip side to the question of staff deployment during elections. The positive perspective, depending on the statistics, would be that there will be more officials who can help in conducting the elections simultaneously. However, depending upon the number of staff available, there is also a possibility of shortage of staff, considering the areas in which people will have to be deployed and the kind of administrative machinery that will be used to ensure that the elections are conducted smoothly.
One other major disadvantage of simultaneous polls can be the lessened spirit of competition amongst the political parties, as a healthy competitive spirit prompts efficient political and democratic systems. The Indian democracy runs on a system of checks and balances. It is basically a regulatory system where power is not concentrated in the hands of certain groups or individuals. In India, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary keep a ‘check’ on the power of each other and make sure that their powers are well ‘balanced’ out. There is a possibility of disturbance in this system due to the lethargic attitude of parties during simultaneous elections. Frequent elections keep up a spirit of competition which ensures that each party strives to be better than the other party. The Opposition party keeps the ruling party in check by evaluating and discussing the loopholes in their implementation of policies and schemes, expecting that their proactive work as an opposition would benefit their party during elections.
As per a 2017 paper by the NITI Aayog frequent elections have been identified as a major fundamental problem in the electoral system of India because of which the Union Government is aiming to give the procedure of simultaneous elections legal sanctity so that it becomes a permanent feature of our electoral system through Constitutional amendments.
Simultaneous polling might be a great step to make sure that there is smoother functioning of the Election Commission, considering the fact that it has the herculean task of ensuring free and fair elections throughout the Democratic Republic of India. Though the idea is not without its flaws, they will only be brought to light and fully understood once we attempt to pilot the idea before considering its actual implementation.