Insights into Editorial: One India, One election an interesting concept but its benefits not clear yet
Frequent elections, according to experts, hamper long-term policymaking because every decision is seen as bait for votes. Hence, to end this vicious cycle of elections, PM Modi had recommended holding of simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections all over the country. The PM’s stand on the issue received support from President Pranab Mukherjee recently when he said that there was an emerging idea within the political parties that the elections should be held together and that the Election Commission of India can put in their ideas and efforts on holding the polls together.
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.
Frequent elections have some benefits too:
- One, politicians, who tend to forget voters after the elections for five years have to return to them. This enhances accountability, keeps them on their toes.
- Two, elections give a boost to the economy at the grassroots level, creating work opportunities for lakhs of people.
- Three, there are some environmental benefits also that flow out of the rigorous enforcement of public discipline like non-defacement of private and public property, noise and air pollution, ban on plastics, etc.
- Four, local and national issues do not get mixed up to distort priorities. In voters’ minds, local issues overtake wider state and national issues.
- Besides, a staggered electoral cycle also acts as a check against demagoguery, fascism and oligarchy, in that order.
- It also ensures that the mood of the nation at a particular moment does not hand over political power across a three-tiered democratic structure to one dispensation or individual. It gives people a chance to distinguish between the national, state and local interests, rather than being swept away in a “wave”, often manufactured by corporate media and the economic muscle of commercial carpetbaggers.
Why holding simultaneous elections is a good idea?
- This will help save public money.
- It will 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.
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.
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.
Why it is difficult to go for simultaneous elections?
- The biggest challenge is achieving political consensus, which seems to be “chimerical”.
- Regional parties will be more opposed to the idea than national parties because there is always a tendency for voters to vote the same party in power in the state and at the Centre in case the Lok Sabha polls and the state elections are held together.
- Also, according to IDFC, there is a 77% chance that the Indian voter will vote for the same party for both the state and Centre when elections are held simultaneously.
An alternative and practicable method is holding elections in two phases. Elections of some assemblies can be held at mid-term of Lok Sabha and remaining with the end of tenure of Lok Sabha. For this, the terms of some legislative assemblies may need to be extended while some of them may need to be curtailed.
In order to achieve this, the tenure of the existing state assemblies will have to be curtailed or extended by some months. In any case, the Election Commission is empowered by the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to call an election six months prior to the end of the normal term of the Lok Sabha or any state assembly.
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.
One India, One election is an interesting concept but whether it will decrease the evils that the nation/government wants to get rid of needs to be debated thoroughly. To be sure, 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. That said, 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.