Insights into Editorial: Should India have simultaneous elections?
Free and fair elections are held for the continuity of good governance in democracy like India.
A debate which has periodically taken place in this country is about holding simultaneous elections to the state legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha. Prime Minister said to have time and again supported this idea. PM went a step ahead from what others in the past. While many of the senior members of the Government suggested simultaneous elections to both State legislature and Lok Sabha, Prime Minister wanted to include even the Urban Local bodies and panchayats.
Meanwhile the reason behind the issue getting traction again is the report by the Standing committee of parliament which had made this suggestion. However political parties are divided on this move.
As it is an issue of national importance we need to discuss political, practical and constitutional questions relating to the enforcing a uniform election in the country.
Our country’s first general elections were held in 1951-52. There was a simultaneous General Election to Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies. This trend had continued in three subsequent General Elections held in 1957, 1962 and 1967. But in 1968 and 1969, the cycle got disrupted due to the premature dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies. Similarly in the year 1970, it was the turn of Lok Sabha that it itself got dissolved prematurely. As a result of premature dissolution and extension of the terms of Lok Sabha and state assemblies, the cycle of simultaneous elections got disturbed.
What are the arguments in favour of conducting simultaneous elections?
The suggestion for holding simultaneous elections was made time and again as supporters argue that it would ensure consistency, continuity and efficiency in the governance.
Enforcing a Model code of Conduct during elections time would impact implantation of development programmes.
Election expenditure is rising steadily in India. Elections have unfortunately become the root cause of corruption and black money. Supporters who argue for the simultaneous elections say that it would curb corruption and build more conducive socio-economic system.
The process of conducting elections on such a large scale is tiresome. Entire district administration gets busy and few ministries will become standstill. There are various stakeholders involved in holding elections like security personnel, government teachers etc. So, on the administration front, frequent elections pose a huge burden on resources — both manpower and financial. The opportunity cost of these lost resources is too high to ignore as India is a resource-constrained developing economy.
Other argument is disruption of public life with political rallies and noise pollution and the sharpening of caste, religious and communal divide by dishonest politicians looking to garner votes would increase due to recurring polls.
Till 1967 first four general elections held simultaneously across the country. Now is it possible to bring back the same process?
Constitution says that the life of the Parliament shall be Five years unless it is dissolved prematurely for other reasons. Same provision is applicable to Assemblies as well. Holding simultaneous polls might be desirable from many points of view but it may not be possible to getting it back in reality.
The simultaneous elections to Parliament and State legislatures till 1967 were less by design and more due to dominant party system. When that neatness was lost in the 1960s and later in the 1990s, it owed much to the dismantling of the dominant party system. The election cycle became remained same for last few decades due to coalition politics, active role played by state parties and greater power sharing among parties.
If we enforce the system of simultaneous elections, we would need to curtail the legislature’s power to unseat a government. An assembly is elected for a period of five years. It can be dissolved only when the government in that state cannot carry on, as per the provisions of the constitution. A no-confidence motion must be passed by the House, and with no alternative government being confirmed. So, the impact on the fundamental instrument of the no-confidence motion is an important question that needs to be answered.
Other question is that in the event of state government’s premature break down, will these states be under the president’s rule till the next elections? Even if the President carries on the government for the remainder of the period, it means that the States would be penalised for not producing a majority government.
There is another practical difficulty. Suppose simultaneous elections are held but the government loses its majority in the Lok Sabha, what will happen to those 29 States governments, even if they have an absolute majority?
What are the recommendations of standing committee?
The Committee noted that the holding of simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies would reduce: (i) the massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections; (ii) the policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time; and (iii) impact on delivery of essential services and (iv) burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time.
Holding of elections in two phases: The Committee recommended that elections could be held in two phases. It stated that elections to some Legislative Assemblies could be held during the midterm of Lok Sabha. Elections to the remaining legislative assemblies could be held with the end of Lok Sabha’s term.
The elections of legislative assemblies whose term ends six months after the general elections to Lok Sabha can be clubbed together. However, the results of such elections can be declared at the end of the assembly’s tenure.
Holding simultaneous elections is certainly not feasible
Holding simultaneous elections goes against the spirit of the Constitution and against the spirit of federalism.
National and local issues are different, and holding simultaneous elections is likely to distort the judgment of the people. There is apprehension that whenever there is a majoritarian government at the Centre, any anti-incumbency in the States is likely to get neutralised if simultaneous elections are held.
Implementing simultaneous polls would require a substantial shift from the status quo and would involve amendments to the Constitution and election-related laws.
Decisions taken at the local level are driven by local level considerations. Holding simultaneous elections even for local bodies along with Lok Sabha elections is problematic for the simple reason that every election has its own dynamics and its own issues.