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Perils of a prolonged election schedule

Perils of a prolonged election schedule

May 13
06:31 2014

The election schedule for parliamentary elections as announced by Election Commission of India (ECI) on 5 March 2014 has raised serious issues regarding the efficiency, cost and prolonged period of administrative paralysis. It also needs to be tested from the equity point of view in terms of equal opportunity to all the contesting parties in a deepening fractious polity. Election notification from the ECI began on 14 March 2014. The last notification for polling was on 17 April 2014. The poll has been scheduled in nine phases beginning 7 April 2014 to 12 May 2014 with the counting to take place on 16 May 2014. Thus, a total period of 72 days will be taken in the completion of parliamentary elections.

Near paralysis in governance

The model code of conduct becomes effective once the election is notified. Effectively both the State and the Union Governments informally move into slow pace of governance. Any new decisions either in terms of investment or other forms of policy initiative are not taken if such a decision is likely to impact the results of the election. The bureaucracy loath to any form of risk adopts wait and watch mode. The ministers and other key political functionaries get busy in their respective constituencies with little time for any disposal of serious official matters. The truth is that the Government functioning comes to a halt except minimum necessary maintenance though the ECI keeps clarifying that there is no stoppage of normal activities. It also impacts the foreign policy, as of other countries governments decide to postpone any engagement till the next government is installed. The security matters in some respects also get affected as procurement decisions in the Defence Ministry do not get easy passage.

Implications

Such a long duration of electoral process adversely affects the campaign efforts of political parties. Given a very live and vibrant media, it is difficult to escape from the whispering campaign. Though exit polls are banned, yet election prospects get reported indirectly signaling the party better placed to romp home. The disinformation campaign is at its peak and the confused voter further gets bewildered.

The cost involved in conducting the election process is huge. Firstly, it is near impossible for the candidates to restrict the expenditure within the ceiling prescribed for the parliamentary elections. Longer the period greater will be the violation of the expenditure ceiling. The truth becomes the major casualty. It also costs the exchequer very heavily. The polling in 1984 for parliamentary elections was in three phases with approximate expenditure of Rs. 82 crore. Since then it has been escalating and there is a fair estimate that the expenditure on conducting the current parliamentary elections would cross the thousand crore mark.

Scheduling process and remedy

It is appreciated that the schedule for the election is determined in consultation with Home Ministry and other agencies responsible for law and order and internal security. The State Government are also consulted. The agencies responsible for mobilizing police forces are under strain and favour prolonged election schedule so that the forces are ale to move from one corner of the country to the other. However, there is a need for moderation and more efficient deployment so as to complete the responsibility in shorter span of time and thus resume normal law and order/maintenance activity.

A quick glance to the schedule of election would make a strong case for shorter span of electoral process. Barring third, fifth and sixth phase, which account for 331 parliamentary constituencies, the remaining parliamentary constituencies could be easily be accommodated in two more phases. After all, there is no case for first, second, fourth and ninth phase with 6, 7, 5 and 41 parliamentary constituencies respectively only. The feasibility of holding of about 100 parliamentary constituencies in one phase is well within the practical limits. It should be possible to ensure free and fair elections within five phases in a time span of about three weeks.

The experience of other countries should guide ECI for keeping a bare minimum duration for elections. South Africa, UK, US have one day poll. Brazil and France, who have run off dates on account of proportional representation, conclude in a shorter period barring campaignperiod for final results than in India.

Clubbing of Assembly elections

There is another and more serious aspect to the electoral process. The Assembly and Parliamentary elections do not necessarily coincide due to constitutional and electoral provisions. The country is always in an election mode. To say the least, it distracts our focus from growth and development to totally unproductive, acrimonious and extraneous agenda. During 2012-13, 11 Assembly elections in different States were held. Again, in the last quarter of the current year, elections are scheduled in three to four States. While it is appreciated that a co-terminious elections of Assembly and Parliament will require constitutional amendment, it should be possible for the ECI to club the elections of States with the parliamentary elections in cases where they become due either before or after in a span of six months of Parliament elections. This would at least curtail significantly the “tamasha” of elections and the nation would focus more on the agenda of growth.

Democracy is the lifeline of our nation. It is the foundation of our constitutional fabric. Electoral process is a means to established democratic institutional framework. With the rising cost of elections and ever increasing stakes in capturing power, the longer duration of election process has negative impact and does not strengthen the cause of democracy, which it professes to promote.

Democracy is the lifeline of our nation. It is the foundation of our constitutional fabric. Electoral process is a means to established democratic institutional framework. With the rising cost of elections and ever increasing stakes in capturing power, the longer duration of election process has negative impact and does not strengthen the cause of democracy, which it professes to promote.

By Writer is former Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
And presently Director, Public Interest Foundation
e-mail: Director@publicinterestfoundation.com

(This article was published in The Economic Times on 13 May, 2014)

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Jesus Bradley

Jesus Bradley

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