Insights into Editorial: Shift the reform debate to states

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Insights into Editorial: Shift the reform debate to states

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23 June 2016

Elections in India have become a continuous process and political parties with stakes in various states are constantly preparing for one election or the other. With the conclusion of five assembly elections earlier this year, political buzz around the next round of elections has already started. Five assembly elections will be held in the next two years.

Problems associated with frequent elections:

  • Frequent elections affect policymaking and governance as the government is trapped in short-term thinking.
  • It also destabilises duly-elected governments and imposes a heavy burden on the exechequer.
  • It also puts pressure on political parties, especially smaller ones, as elections are becoming increasingly expensive.
  • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which comes into force with the announcement of poll dates, prevents government from announcing any new schemes, make any new appointments, transfers and postings without the approval of election commission. This brings normal work of the government to a standstill.
  • It also increases the cost of management to the election commission.

What’s the solution?

Holding simultaneous elections for state assemblies and Parliament is the best solution. This idea has also received support from PM Modi and the parliamentary standing committee of Law and Justice. Besides, the Law Commission in its report on electoral reforms in 1999 had suggested simultaneous Lok Sabha and state assembly elections to improve governance and stability.

Why holding simultaneous elections is a good idea?

  • This will help save public money and will also be a big relief for political parties that are always in campaign mode.
  • It will allow political parties to focus more on policy and governance.

Concerns:

Lok Sabha and assembly elections were held simultaneously until the mid-1960s, but the premature dissolution of state assemblies in subsequent years disturbed the cycle. In several instances, the Lok Sabha also suffered the same fate. Therefore, some stakeholders fear that even if elections are brought in sync, the cycle might once again get interrupted. There is also the possibility of dismissal of state governments and premature dissolution of assemblies.

Way ahead:

Although it may not be immediately possible to move towards simultaneous elections, it is still worth debating and finding ways to eventually do so. The problem of premature dissolution has diminished significantly after the passage of the anti-defection law and the Supreme Court’s landmark Bommai judgement.

  • For the Lok Sabha, as suggested by the Law Commission and others, rules for the conduct of business can be modified so that a no-confidence motion against the government can only be moved with a confidence motion for an alternative formation. This will increase stability and allow the house to complete its term. The same can be done for state assemblies as well.
  • Next best alternative is to conduct elections for assemblies in two phases—one with the Lok Sabha and the other midway through the Lok Sabha’s term. This will significantly reduce the time and energy spent on polls.  

Previous experiences:

After the Constitution came into being in 1950, elections to the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies were held simultaneously in 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967 and all the newly elected legislative bodies were constituted between March and April in each of these years.

  • In the first three elections, it was virtually one-party rule with the Congress Party holding sway over the voters almost everywhere. However in 1967, the electorate dislodged the Congress in a few states and voted in unstable coalitions. A couple of these governments collapsed ahead of time in the late 1960s, thus marginally disrupting the arrangement of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and all the state assemblies.
  • However, the real damage was done in 1970, when early dissolution of the Fourth Lok Sabha took place. Since then, the arrangement of simultaneous elections has come to an end and over a period of time, the country has got into a vicious cycle of elections which has begun to hurt governance in a big way.

Conclusion:

The proposal will not only have economic benefits but will free up precious political space for policy discussions. It will also help in taking forward the process of economic reforms as decisions will not always be hostage to assembly elections. However, there are multiple issues that will need to be addressed if the country intends to move in this direction. The concerns and suggestions of different stakeholders will have to be debated in order to build political consensus around the idea.