Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra has said that the Election Commission is ready to hold simultaneous elections or ‘One Nation, One Election’.
One Nation One Election
- “One Nation One Election” (ONOE) or “Simultaneous Elections” has been a topic of discussion among policymakers since the inception of India’s democratic process after independence.
- It has been seen as an essential tool to prevent the impact of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) on development works.
- It has also been envisaged as a tool to cut down the election expenditure at different levels.
- Law Commission of India in its draft report in 2018 has discussed possibilities and challenges of simultaneous elections in India.
- This idea was proposed by Election Commission in 1983. It was also referred by the Law Commission and NITI Aayog.
- ONOE means structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are synchronized together under which voters in a particular constituency vote for both on the same day.
- It does not mean that voting across the country for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies happens on a single day. It can be conducted in a phase-wise manner and voters in a particular constituency vote for both State Assembly and Lok Sabha the same day.
Birth of the Idea: A backgrounder
- Simultaneous elections are not new to India. They were the norm until 1967.
- But following dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969 and that of the Lok Sabha in December 1970, elections to State Assemblies and Parliament have been held separately.
- The idea of reverting to simultaneous polls was mooted in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983.
- The Law Commission’s Report also referred to it in 1999.
- After PM floated the idea once again in 2016, the NITI Aayog prepared a working paper on the subject in January 2017.
What are the proposals under it?
There were two proposals to conduct elections synchronization in two batches.
- One proposal was to make the shift to simultaneous polls in a phased manner, where general elections, of few States and UT may be synchronised in 2019.
- For such a synchronization to happen, besides political consensus and extension of term up to six months in some states, amendments to the Constitution have to be made.
- Elections to the remaining States and UTs with will be synchronised by the end of 2021.
- Thereafter, elections to the Lok Sabha, all the State Legislative Assemblies and Union Territories (with legislatures) will be held simultaneously from 2024.
Need for Synchronizing the Elections:
- The idea of “One Nation, One Election” is a very good idea. In the larger public interest, it will be very useful. However, there may be certain constitutional impediments.
- For holding all elections on a particular day, the terms of the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies should be synchronized in such a way that elections can be held within a given span of time. For this, constitutional amendments would be needed. Articles 83, 85, 172, 174, and 356 of the Constitution of India would need to be amended. Article 83 says that the term of the Lok Sabha would be a period of 5 years from the date of its first sitting. Similarly, Article 172 says that the term of the legislative assemblies in the country will also be a period of 5 years from the date of its first sitting.
- Currently, all these dates vary. The current term of the Lok Sabha will go up to 2024. The elections to some state assemblies have also been recently held, whereas some were held last year (2018), and some were held during the previous year. Thus, important questions emerge. The most important being the manner in which one can synchronize all these dates, such that they all end during a particularly given span of time. Thus, for the implementation of simultaneous elections in the country, the terms of some legislative assemblies should be extended, or in some cases, they must be curtailed. Currently, the elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana are due in the next 3-4 months or so. Similarly, the elections to the states of Rajasthan have been held recently, thus, if simultaneous elections are to be held, the terms of these assemblies would have to be extended. Thus, all these extensions and curtailments would need some amendments to the Constitution of India.
Constitutional and legal challenges: Perspectives and Insights
(a) Proposing the idea of a Presidential form of Government:
- The core problem area which is coming in the way of implementing this is the Parliamentary form of Government which India practices.
- In this, the Government is accountable to the lower house, be it at the level of the State Assemblies or in the Lok Sabha.
- If the Government is accountable to the lower house, given the nature of the Parliamentary form of Government, the Government can fall (theoretically) before it completes its term. And the moment the Government falls, there have to be fresh elections. Thus, the core obstruction in the way of implementing simultaneous elections in the country is a Parliamentary form of Government. Thus, one solution (which would emerge to be a radical solution) is to go for a Presidential form of Government.
(b) Looking at the American Perspective:
- In America, the election day is fixed. After every 4 years, the first Tuesday, falling after the first Monday, in the month of November, is the election date. This applies to the office of the President and Vice President of the United States of America.
- Similarly, the days for holding elections for the House of Representatives, and the Senate are also fixed. This is done between the 2nd and the 8th of November. This has been fixed statutorily, i.e. it has been fixed by a law.
- In India, such a concept is not possible because of the Parliamentary form of government. Thus, one solution that can be put forward is India adopting a Presidential form of Government.
(c) Implementing simultaneous elections within the existing system:
- One can also fix the term of the assembly and the Lok Sabha.
- This can be done by amending various provisions, particularly, Article 83 (which talks about the tenure of the Lok Sabha) and Article 172 (which talks about the tenure of the Vidhan Sabha). Also, Article 356 has to be amended because that authorizes the Central Government to impose President’s rule for the failure of constitutional machinery in a State. Thus, once we have a fixed tenure, even if the Government is dismissed, the Government goes, but the assembly remains. Thus, this part has to be taken care of.
- If the existing Parliamentary form of Government continues, the Government is bound to fall, and at times it can fall because of quorum issues. Such issues would need to be tackled and they can be done even within the present framework.
Indian Elections: Past and Present
- Our Parliamentary system is very difficult, different and complex vis-à-vis the American system. Also, the idea of “One Nation, One Election” is not new. We have been holding the elections of the assemblies and the Lok Sabha from 1951-52 till 1967. There are no disputes in terms of the efficacy of “One Nation, One Election”. The problem that needs to be addressed is about its implementation, and how we can enforce it all across India. Also, it is important that we seek a consensus because the Parliamentary system follows the system of traditions and conventions, and at this current juncture, it is difficult to impose a particular idea on all the political parties.
- Synchronizing elections from the Lok Sabha, to State Assemblies and even local institutions, is possible, but what is important is how this synchronization can be done based on existing traditions and conventions. The most important parameter with which things can be synchronized to is the fixed tenure of the Lok Sabha. So, if we keep this parameter as fixed (we have the next Lok Sabha elections due in 2024), the duration of the other assemblies can either be extended or deducted.
- Also, the idea of simultaneous elections in terms of checking the exchequer’s money in terms of poll expenses, party expenses, etc. throws up some important facts. As a matter of fact, in 1951-52, when the first elections to the Lok Sabha took place, the number of political parties and the number of candidates and even the poll expenses, was a very minimal figure.
- For instance, when we compare the poll expenses with the indexing of 2011, the poll expenses were only 11 crores (this was declared and displayed by political parties in 1951-52). Also, the number of political parties that contested the elections in 1951-52 was only 53, and there were around 1874 candidates in total (a figure less than 2000). When we compare this with the figures in 2019, we find that the number of political parties has risen from 53 to 610.
- The number of candidates has also increased from 1874 to around say 9-10 thousand. Also, the poll expenses which have been declared by the political parties come up to 60,000 crore rupees. Thus, if we just take the trajectory of these important dimensions, one believes that the idea is going for “One Nation, One Election”, would be in the interest of the nation. If this is implemented, then India can move towards a vibrant and new democratic system.
What are the merits of Simultaneous Elections? (or Need for SE)
- Frequent elections make winning the elections the first priority for the government.
- But SE allows the government to spend their 5 years term for providing governance instead of just thinking about winning elections.
- Frequent elections make every party in the legislative assembly or parliament to have a spotlight which results in a logjam and affect legislative efficiency.
- Frequent elections cause a huge economic burden.
- Because it will result in the imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by Election Commission over a long period of time that often leads to policy paralysis and governance deficit as new welfare measures, infrastructure projects, etc. cannot be announced when MCC is in force.
- Frequent elections result in a huge expenditure by different stakeholders such as political parties, individual candidates, etc.
- The urge to spend more to win elections is blamed as one of the key drivers for corruption and black money in the country.
- Frequent elections also need huge management or administrative cost on the part of the government.
- Since a huge number of teachers are involved in the electoral process, SE causes maximum harm to the education sector.
- British Parliament, which is considered to be the ‘mother of parliaments’, enacted ‘Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011’ by which elections have been fixed for every 5 years.
- Simultaneous elections are also held successfully in South Africa and Sweden.
What are the Demerits of Simultaneous Elections? (Or Challenges)
On History factor
- Simultaneous elections are not mandated by the constitution. In the initial two decades after independence, SE was held due to the historical coincidence and political stability at that time.
On the cost factor
- The current election expenditure of India is only about 0.05% of the total annual expenditure and it is not a huge price to pay for the world’s largest and most vibrant electoral democracy.
On the Model Code of conduct (MCC)
- If the Model Code of Conduct is an obstacle to the government from taking welfare measures or starting infrastructure projects. Then the solution is to reform the code rather than the electoral cycle itself.
On governance issue
- With no elections in the intermittent period, some of the elected representatives may not show much interest in delivering governance.
- So frequent elections act as checks and balances on the functioning of elected representatives.
- The PM or CM can advise the president or the governor, to prematurely dissolve the Lok Sabha or state assembly. But according to Article 85 and Article 174, elections to Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies have to be held within 6 months of dissolving either of them.
- If the government loses its majority due to no-confidence motion, then elections become unavoidable.
- Thus constitutional amendment is needed for extending or curtailing terms.
- Simultaneous elections are against the federal principles whereby each state has devised its own format of the political competition.
- Thus SE affects the political autonomy of states.
- Also, SE will move the local issues or issues of state importance to the background. This completely ignores the country’s diversity.
- The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) recently ruled out the possibility of holding simultaneous elections because of intense resource need.
- SE would need a high number of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit (VVPAT) units.
- Furthermore, ensuring the availability of VVPATs in every state poses a logistical challenge too.
Suggestions by law Commission on Simultaneous Elections/ ONOE in India
- The Law Commission of India chaired by Justice B.S. Chauhan released its draft report on Simultaneous Elections.
- It examined legal and constitutional constraints and solutions related to the conduct of simultaneous elections.
- The Law Commission has suggested that simultaneous elections can only be held through appropriate amendments to the Constitution.
- It suggested amending the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha and state Assemblies.
- The Commission further opined that at least 50% of the states must ratify the constitutional amendments.
- The commission had suggested postponing the election of state legislatures that have completed their tenure of five years just one year before the Lok Sabha election (2019) by extending their tenure.
- It recommended for dissolving of the state legislature which would have completed their tenure one year after Lok Sabha Election (2019).
- It had recommended to simultaneously conducting elections for other states legislatures having tenure of more than 1 year in 2021.
- They would have been dissolved in the next Lok Sabha election due in 2024.
- Constructive vote of no-confidence:
- It recommended for the constructive vote of no-confidence by doing away with the current no-confidence motion through appropriate amendments.
- According to the new system, the government might only be removed and a new alternate government is formed for the remaining term.
- The government may be formed by the largest pre-poll or post-poll coalition or by the single largest party. However, it has suggested putting the cap on several such motions
- Mid-term elections: It has recommended for a mid-term election in Lok Sabha or State Legislatures if the government is not formed by all suggested means.
- The next government must be formed for the remaining tenure only.
- Amendment to anti-defection laws: It suggested amending anti-defection laws and putting a time-frame of six-month to decide the issue of disqualification of a member by the presiding officer of the house.
Article 83: Defines Maximum Duration Of Lower House Of Parliament.
Article 172: Defines Maximum Duration Of State Legislature.
Articles 85(1): Defines sessions, prorogation, and dissolution of Parliament.
174(1): Defines sessions, prorogation, and dissolution State Assemblies.
Article 75(3): Council of ministers in Lok Sabha.
164(2): Council of ministers in the state assembly.
Amendments in 10th Schedule about disqualification of members of the house.
Other Amendments Sections 14 and 15 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha. Rules of Procedure of State Assemblies.
- In a developing country like India where 27.9 percent of people live in multi-dimensional poverty following the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, 2020, election expenditure costing Rs 50,000 crores ($7 billion) in one single Lok Sabha election is not sustainable.
- It is more than the Presidential elections of a developed country like the United States ($6.5 billion) which is larger than India in terms of geographical area and only next to India in terms of population.
- Hence, India must opt for ‘One Nation, One Election’, despite some of the limitations in it.
- Analysis of financial implications, the effect of MCC, and the law commission’s recommendations suggest that there is a feasibility to restore one nation one election concept as it existed during the first two decades of India’s independence.
- However, it cannot be the panacea. The issues related to frequent elections can be addressed by, re-looking at the duration of restrictions under Model Code of Conduct, curbing poll expenditures by electoral funding reforms, bringing political parties under RTI, etc.
Source: Indian Express