Insights into Editorial: Simultaneous polls: ifs and buts
Both, the President and the Prime Minister have made a strong pitch for holding the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections simultaneously. They have suggested that any decision by the Election Commission in this regard after consultations with political parties will be accepted. The EC believes this is a do-able proposition, provided certain legislative changes are made and infrastructure strengthened.
Need for holding simultaneous elections arises from the following reasons:
- The massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections.
- The policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time.
- Impact on delivery of essential services.
- Burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time.
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.
But, 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.
In a recent report, the NITI Aayog has debated the key challenges cited against the motion: Would it be feasible to extend or curtail the existing terms of some State Assemblies to facilitate simultaneous elections? If elections are held simultaneously, what would happen in case the ruling party or coalition loses majority between terms, in the Lok Sabha or State assemblies? Should the term of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies be fixed? Is it feasible for the EC to conduct elections on such a massive scale? In the EC’s view, the Constitution needs to be amended for elections to be held at one go.
The terms of the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies would need to coincide — commence and expire on a particular date and not necessarily on the date when they complete five years. The situation arising out dissolution of the Lok Sabha/Assembly would have to be considered. By-polls need to be accommodated. Most critical of all, would regional parties let go of a discourse based on local issues? The onus is on political parties to arrive at a consensus.
No doubt, conducting concurrent elections is a humongous logistical task in terms of deployment of personnel, EVMs and other material. But the time has come to make a beginning and ensure political and administrative stability both at the Central and State levels for the country to march unhindered on the path to progress. Once a political consensus is built on the issue, constitutional amendments could be put in place for fixed tenure of the legislative bodies and the process kick-started.