People For Nation
 

Home | About Us | Team | Issues | Contact Us

ARTICLES

Election Commission as Custodian of Electoral Reforms

Elections are a prerequisite for the exercise of sovereignty by people and to provide legitimacy to the authority of government. Indian constitution in its Preamble declares that we are a democratic republic. Regular elections are needed to safeguard this democracy. This necessitates that we must have an institution that ensures free and fair election for our democracy. The formation of Election Commission (EC) was conceptualized on these lines by our constitution makers and the responsibility to conduct elections after independence was entrusted with EC. In 1950 EC was formed as a constitutional body and the task of superintendence, direction and control of all national and state level elections was given to it. All provisions were made to ensure that EC functions in a fairly autonomous manner and is not perturbed by any interference from executive.

Electoral Reforms through EC

Since its inception EC has played a very proactive role in safeguarding the electoral process in India and has initiated many reforms to ensure free and fair elections for all these years. Many reforms were also brought about by other institutions (primarily by parliament and judiciary) which were carried forward by EC. Some of the worthy mentions are as follows:
  1. Universal Suffrage: Our constitution makers realized the importance of participation of all citizens in our democracy and therefore principle of universal suffrage was adopted which has been ensured by EC till now through its conscious efforts.
  2. Reduction of Voting age: Another path breaking step in the direction of deepening democracy was taken when voting age was reduced in 1989 from 21 to 18.
  3. Limits on poll expenses raised:EC has been raising the legal limit of expenditure that can be incurred by a candidate in elections from time to time. This is strictly monitored by EC through various agencies employed by it. However, money spent by parties on its candidates or donations by individuals to the candidate is not taken into account as candidate’s expenditure.
  4. Security deposit of contestants raised: To control the menace of non-serious candidates EC has raised the security deposit of contestants. For Lok Sabha it is now Rs.10000 for general candidates and Rs.5,000 for SC/ST candidates. Similarly for state elections this amount is Rs.5000 and Rs.2500 respectively.
  5. Restriction on contesting elections from multiple constituencies: Under revised rules a candidate cannot contest from multiple constituencies and at a time he can contest only from two constituencies. This saves unnecessary expenditure incurred in elections.
  6. Countermanding of elections: Under changed rules now a election can be countermanded by EC only when a candidate of a party dies and now when an independent candidate is dead.
  7. Campaigning restrictions: Campaigning duration has been reduced from earlier three weeks to two weeks now.
  8. Checking criminalization of politics and disclosure of information: As per modified rules now a candidate is deemed to be disqualified if he has been convicted by a court for more than two years. He cannot contest elections even if he is released on bail during pendency of his appeal against conviction. In June 2002, EC on direction of Supreme Court, issued an order under Article 324 wherein each candidate must submit an affidavit regarding the information of his/her criminal antecedents; assets (both movable and immovable) of self and those of spouses and dependents as well; and qualifications at the time of filing his/her nomination papers for election to Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies. EC has directed that copies of nomination papers and affidavits filed by candidates should be provided to general public and media free of cost if demanded.
  9. Registration of political parties: To eliminate the menace of mushrooming of non-serious political parties which used to get registered easily and created a lot of administrative confusion, EC has taken some rigorous steps. According to new laws only those parties would be registered which have atleast 100 registered electors as its members. EC has also increased the registration fees of parties and it is now Rs 10000.
  10. Involving other departments: Recently EC has also started taking help from IT department in monitoring election expenses during elections and to audit the accounts of political parties.
  11. Usage of media resources by political parties: EC also allows various recognised political parties to use pre-determined time slots in state owned media channels for free for their campaign during elections. This is done by EC to bring about some balance and transparency in electoral process and in a way also helps political parties in terms of reducing their advertisement expenditure.
  12. Awareness programs for citizens: Various awareness programs are also designed and propagated by EC from time to time to create awareness among citizens regarding their political rights and the benefits that can be accrued from them. The intention of EC is to transform representational democracy into participatory democracy.
  13.  Prohibition on exit and opinion polls: Under changed rules EC has prohibited broadcast or display of exit and opinion polls during elections by media. This was done so that voters are not unduly influenced by these.
  14. Use of technological and scientific advancements: EC is trying to make election process more efficient and economical through introduction of various technological and scientific advancements. EVM is a path breaking step in that direction which has reduced the malpractices associated with voting and has proven to be effective in terms of cost and time. The issuing of Photo ID card was another big leap in the direction of making electoral process in India efficient. The launch of EC’s website and the process of computerization of electoral rolls are other big steps in this regard. The other mentionable efforts are online communications network (COMET) to monitor events at every single polling station spread over the state, vulnerability mapping, SMS-based query about electoral rolls and web-based search facility.
  15. Model Code of conduct: From 1971 onwards EC has been issuing model code of conduct laying down guidelines for conduct of contestants so that elections could be conducted in free and fair atmosphere. The code of conduct is developed by the political parties and EC enforces it conscientiously. It is a unique mechanism to ensure a level-playing field in elections and any breach in this is taken seriously by EC which then takes necessary steps to ensure compliance.

    
Changing nature of polity and EC

The nature of Indian polity is changing day by day. More and more social groups are struggling to get their own political space. Gradually the social groups that have been historically deprived of true representation are realizing the value of representational space. This has deepened our democratic process and has increased the contestation in the political space of our country. It is in these circumstances that we need to realize the importance of institutions and the safeguards introduced by it for fortifying this process of increased democratisation. Therefore EC has to be more political than administrative in its approach in dealing with the problems arising with this changing situation.

 Reforms needed in EC

With the enhanced role of EC in changing times one also needs to divest it with more powers to cope up with this situation. There are many suggestions that have been proposed. Few worthy mentions are:

1. It is proposed that EC should be vested with more coercive powers than it has now. For example it should be allowed to countermand any election on report of any election observer in addition to the returning officer. It should also have more powers when it comes to disqualify a candidate who has criminal antecedents. EC should also be allowed to take swift action against parties and individuals if they are found violating the established procedure for receiving or spending money for political purposes.

2. EC has proposed an independent secretariat for it on the lines of Lok Sabha secretariat so that its independence in its functioning is enhanced. 

3. In the matters of law and order and security arrangement during elections it is proposed that EC should be statutorily consulted and it should have increased say in these matters.

4. In this highly contested political domain the appointment procedure of EC should be more transparent and on a broader basis so that political bias of executive in this process can be avoided.

Conclusion

Over the years EC through its numerous praiseworthy efforts have been able to conduct elections in India in a considerably free and fare manner. According to a countrywide CSDS poll EC has been regarded by people as one of the most trusted institutions in our country. However, the commendable efforts of EC and the trust placed by people in it were not enough to contain many vices of our political system. In wake of this we need to strengthen the hands of EC by giving it more legal and institutional powers to counter these vices in an effective manner. Other than this, three major prerequisites for electoral reforms to take place are: increased political will to implement reforms; informed and active citizenry; and independent and mature media.