Event ReportsPublished on Jun 08, 2018
Bunching together all elections in a year better option: Ex-CEC
Political parties are the weakest link in our democratic system, and we need an exclusive law for them, according to former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) T S Krishnamurthy. Initiating a discussion on ‘Simultaneous Elections: Desirability and Feasibility’ at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai, on 2 June, Krishnamurthy said “Democracy in India has evolved through tough times and there is much more to achieve”. Opining that simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and various State Assemblies was both desirable and also feasible, Krishnamurthy said that Parliament would have to amend the Representation of the Peoples Act and also the Constitution, the latter requiring a two-thirds majority, before we could reach that stage. Recalling how until 1967 such ‘simultaneous polls’ were the norm, he recounted the days of multiple ballot-boxes in the first general election of 1952 to the present-day electronic voting machines with verifiable slips. In this context, the former CEC underscored the need for ensuring free and fair elections, if any scheme of the kind was to succeed. He referred to as “democratic back-sliding”, such instances as poll-day frauds and booth-capturing, much of the latter having been reduced by the era of EVMs. Krishnamurthy, however, felt that the quality of our democracy is being incapacitated by modern methods such as strategic manipulation of the election, and ‘executive aggrandisement’, whereby elected political administrators have gradually weakened the constraints on their power and escalate the institutional impediment to the political opposition.

Single-phase polling

Speaking about the in-built defects of the current electoral procedure, Krishnamurthy explained that single-phase elections may hold the key, though with exceptions like in the troubled border State of Jammu and Kashmir. Two-phase polling should be the norm, not the exception, if at all, he said. He also referred to the role played by social identities such as caste, religion and language, which impact on the results in individual constituencies, State and region. Periodic elections are good theoretically, but the cost of elections is cataclysmic, he said. The muscle power and money power exhibited by political parties are reprehensible while the hatred and violence are outrageous, which hurts the democratic power, he added. Simultaneous elections, according to Krishnamurthy, combining both the Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections, reduce the time, and also the monies that both the government and political parties end up spending. Against this, the existing system was well established and was modelled on the Westminster principle. Changing it would require relevant amendments to the Constitution, and the election laws, which can prove difficult in reality. Political parties may support or oppose the change-over depending on the fact if they were in power at a given point in time, or if the existing trends favoured them. As of the 2019 parliamentary elections, he said there was no chance of simultaneous elections. If at all, it may become possible earliest by 2024, he said.

State funding

Going for a practical solution, Krishnamurthy said that rather than simultaneous polls, which has practical and execution problems, and also impact the constitutional principle of fixed-tenure legislature,  bunching together of elections for various State Assemblies to hold them once a year, and not through the year only when they become due, is an option. But this again required relevant constitutional amendments. Krishnamurthy repeatedly mentioned that political parties were the weakest link in our democratic system, and have not only sprung up in numbers but also in violent behaviour. Hence, there should be strong laws to govern political parties and their behaviour. This should include proper rules for election-funding. State funding of elections is also one option. But all of these required political will and consensus, without which the relevant laws could not be initiated and passed. Such political will too is lacking, the former CEC said.
This report was prepared by S Sivanesan, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter
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