Elections & Political Parties Notes | EduRev

Indian Polity for UPSC CSE

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Composition, duties and functions of the Election Commission 

The superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for the conduct of elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice-President are vested in the Election Commission, which is an independent body.

The Election Commission may consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such other Election Commissioners, as the President may appoint.

The Chief Election Commissioner cannot be removed from office, except in the same manner and on the like grounds, as a judge of the Supreme Court while other Election Commissioner can be removed by the President only on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner.

His conditions of service shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment.

The exclusive forum for adjudicating disputes relating to the election of the President and VicePresident is the Supreme Court, while any dispute relating to the election of Prime Minister or Speaker of the Lok Sabha will be determined by an election petition before the High Court.

The principal functions of the Election Commission are: To control, direct and monitor all matters relating to the election of the President, Vice-President, members of Parliament and State Legislatures.

To get the electoral rolls for all elections prepared, revised and updated, in accordance with the laws of the land. 

To appoint election officials for enquiring into election disputes. 

To settle disputes in regard to allotment of sym- bols for the various parties contesting the elections. 

To issue notifications regarding the various election schedules. To advise the President/Governors on the question of disqualifications incurred by members of State Assemblies. 

To issue a Code of Conduct and Ethics to be adhered to by the political parties and their candidates before and during the elections. 

To appoint the appropriate election machinery throughout the country. 

To provide the necessary staff for the smooth conduct of elections nationwide. To review periodically the electoral performance of political parties.

Need for a radical law for regulating the political parties

Yes. There is an urgent need to take radical action to enable the democratic polity function properly and effectively and to reach the Constitutional goals speedily. With this end in view, a law for the political parties is the crying need of the hour. Suitable amendments to the Constitution must be introduced to check and regulate the working of political parties. The other facet of change which could cleanse the electoral process would be State financing of elections.

This step could go a long way to eliminate corruption and the use of money power in the electoral process. Incidentally, in the U.K., where the State finances the elections, from 1927 till date, no single instance of corrupt practice has come up before the Judiciary.

Politics is the life-blood of a nation in a democratic set-up. If politics becomes impure, the body politic undergoes strain. The intelligentsia should not abdicate in favour of negative elements and allow anti-social elements to make politics their preserve.

The working of Parliament has deteriorated over the decades. There is a wide gap between the formulation and implementation of socio-economic policies. The bureaucrats are either too much preoccupied with their own affairs or are too lazy to checkmate the gross abuse and misuse of power by the politicians.

It becomes imperative to initiate the muchneeded amendments to the Constitution, in the context of the present murky political situation and to bring the clean, value-based politics of the Nehru era back on the rails.

Role of opposition in a parliamentary democracy

Under a parliamentary democracy the opposition has a special role to play. It constantly watches the policies and actions of the government and highlights its failures and lapses with a view to win the electoral support with the ultimate objective of capturing power.

It should be ready to form an alternative government. The opposition through its constant criticism of the government arouses political consciousness among the people and greatly contributes to the formulation of public opinion on various domestic and international issues. The opposition also serves as the watch-dog of the liberties of the people.
 Unfortunately in India an effective opposition has not been able to develop. Mostly only one party, Congress, has been in power at the Centre as well as in most of the states. Most of the time the opposition parties have been divided among themselves.

They were able to unite only on a negative programme viz. the object of ousting Congress from power and failed to provide any positive programme.
 As a result they could not hold their own for long and soon fell prey to internal bickering. No doubt, different political parties were able to form their governments in some states but with the exception of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh they were not able to leave much impact.

The formation of political parties around certain leaders and their decision to defect from one party to another party has also greatly hampered the growth of an effective opposition in India.

Above all the ruling party has indulged in bitter criticism of the opposition and described their activities as anti national: this has deterred the people from supporting these parties and thus prevented the emer-gence of an effective opposition.

Fragmented political parties should come together; reforms in the electoral system—particularly the introduction of proportional system of representation so that each political party can get its share in accordance with the support it gets—may be worked out, though it is a difficult process; opposition party leaders should be consulted by the ruling party on important national issues; opposition parties should try to organise and strengthen themselves from the grass-root level and keep in touch with the masses.

Defection

The term ‘defection’ simply means desertion or abandonment. However, in politics, its ramifications include many situations like change of party or group, shifting of loyalty or allegiance from one party or group to another, repudiation of the label under which a legislator successfully contests his election, crossing of floor inside the legislative chamber, severance of connection from one party for the sake of joining another party.

The 52nd Amendment Act provides for disqualification of a member of a legislature, if he defects from his party to any other. The Bill provided that the Party’s President should be authorised to expel such a member from his party, which involved automatic, instant expulsion from the legislature.

This provision was, however, withdrawn, as many opposition parties felt that this would render party supremos arbitrary and authoritative. The Act, in its present shape, provides for final decisions by the Speaker/Chairman of the House. As, in the case of all proceedings of any legislature, there is protection from judicial review to legislative proceedings under the Act.

There are two exceptions:  No member of a legislature can be disqualified, if a group of one-third of the total membership of the party decides in favour of a split. or  a group of two-third decides in favour ofmerger with some other party.

Some of the weaknesses of the Anti-Defection Act are outlined below:  

Defection is no doubt odious and needs to beeliminated. But, to justify the exception in the case of a split in political parties defies logic.  Freedom of ‘conscience’ of the legislators isviolated and the right of dissent crushed. The provision to dub a person as defector andexpel him from the membership of the House has been made beyond judicial scrutiny. This is a highly objectionable provision. The punishment meted out to a ‘defector’ istoo drastic and is bound to lead to party tyranny, thereby marring the effective functioning of democracy. The better expedient would be to arrest the scope for material temptations before legislators; the potential ‘defectors’ should be deprived of any lucrative assignment. The partie s ad mit ting them should be derecognised by the Election Commission for a fixed duration.  These steps would act as a deterrent in curbing defections.

Demerits of Electoral System

Though some reforms have been introduced into our electoral system, still it is beset with many evils, some of which are as follows —

  1. The mounting expenditure on election, incurred both by the Government on organising them and more particularly, by the parties and candidates on fighting them. The political parties and their candidates mainly rely on business contributions which are mostly in cash and from unaccounted money. Another source is the wealth amassed by the gangs of anti-social elements — smugglers, decoits, and industrial mafias. Also there is increasing use of muscle power in aid of the candidates belonging to dominant castes and communities in a constituency. Often the administrative machinery is hand in glove with these elements.
  2. Due to large number of candidates, the winner candidate very often wins by minority votes. The percentage of votes polled by political parties also does not correspond to their percentage of seats. The majority party generally wins with minority votes.
  3. The object dependence of the Election Commission on the central and state governments for the conduct of the polls is another serious defect in the existing electoral system. Many Presiding Officers at the polling booths have been caught stamping the ballot papers and putting them inside the ballot boxes during the night before the poll.
  4. Candidates with criminal records are contesting elections and get elected by using strong arms.

 Electrol Reforms

Some of the electoral reforms introduced in our electoral system are as follows —

  1. Lowering of voting age — Parliament t hrough Constitution (Sixty-first Amendment) Act, 1988 in 1989 reduced the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.
  2. Deputation to Election Commission — Under the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 1988, a new  section 13 CC was inserted which provides that officers or staff engaged in preparation, revision and correction of electoral rolls for elections shall be deemed to be on deputation of Election Commission. For, the period of such employment and such personnel shall during that period, be subject to control, superintendence and discipline of Election Commission.
  3. Increase in number of proposers — Number of electors who are required to sign as proposers in nomination papers for elections to Council of States Legislative Council has been increased to ten percent of the electors of the constituency or ten such electors, whichever is less, to prevent frivolous candidates.
  4. Electronic voting machine — The Representation of the People Act 1951, was amended to facilitate use of electronic voting machines in elections.
  5. Booth capturing — Section 58 A has been inserted in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 by Act 1 of 1989 providing for adjournment of poll or countermanding of elections because of booth capturing.
  6. Poll law ordinance — There will be no countermanding of elections in case of deaths of independent candidates or of those set up by unrecognised parties.
  7. Photo-I-cards — The Election Commission has made the issue of photo-identity cards is not an indispensable precondition now, but photo-Icards issue has become one of the feature of our polity.
  8. Curbs on vehicles — The Election Commission has directed the state governments to strictly restrict the use of vehicles by candidates, their agents, ministers and political parties on polling day. The order states that on the day of the polling a candidate would be allowed to use only one vehicle for a parliamentary constituency.
  9. Ban on new arms licences — The Election Commission has instructed States and Union Territories to ban licensing of new arms from the date of announcement of an election including by-election till the process is completed.
  10. Disqualification — Disqualification section has been made more stiff by including offences under various laws.
  11. Punishment — Punishment for causing disturbances at election meetings has been enhanced.

Suggestions for Better Electoral System 

To streamline the system, radical reform in the entire electoral system is needed. Electoral reforms and other measures have become imperative to overcome the threat to democracy and carry the democratic process forward. To improve the drawbacks and loopholes in the electoral system these reforms are proposed —

  1. Reorganisation of Election Commission    
    • The CEC's appointment can be made thr ough a committee consisting of the Chief Justice of India, and leaders of t he r uling par ty and main opposition party in Parliament. The committee can make a list of few eminent persons, each selected unanimously, and forward it to the President for final selection. In this way, the overwhelming say that the ruling party has in the CEC's appointment can be neutralised.
    • Further, it should be made mandator y that the CEC on completion of his term will not be eligible for consideration for any office of profit. A retiring CEC may be provided an adequate compensation package.
    • Members of the Election Commission should be appointed by the same committee as was proposed for the selection of the CEC, but with the CEC as an ex-officio member.
  2. Make the election machinery independent : The Election Commission should have its own administrative machinery at the state level and its power should be considerably augmented. At present, the Election Commission is completely at the mercy of the central and state Governments. It cannot even maintain upto-date electoral rolls without assistance from the state government. Thus the independence of the election system would always be under constant threat from vested interests of the party in power.

3. Discourage fake candidates : To curb frivolous candidatures the Election Commission made various recommendations —   

  • Raise the security deposit for the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly.
  • Deny facilities like telephone connections, subsidised printing paper, etc. to independent candidates.
  • Disqualify candidates who fail to poll at least 20 per cent of valid votes.

The first two suggestions may be considered, but the last one is vicious; so is the suggestion that there should be complete ban on independents. However, attempts should be made to eliminate non-serious candidates and prevent fraudulent candidates filing nomination papers. Against the practice of contesting from more than one constituency should be banned.

4. Hold simultaneous elections To curb the election expenditure, it would help much if elections are simultaneously held for the Lok Sabha, state Assemblies and also the Local bodies (through constitutional amendments their terms can easily be made uniform). This would drastically reduce election expenditure of all kinds and would incidentally promote development of a healthy party system at all levels of administrative structure. The Government deliberately separated the Lok Sabha elections from the state assemblies election in 1971-72 in order to make them more expensive to the great disadvantage of the opposition.

5. Fund elections through the state Some system of state funding of electoral campaigns is an absolute necessity. For instance candidates of a recognised political party and independents who have received more than say 25% of the valid votes polled in a particular constituency in a previous election, may be entitled to receive a fixed contribution in two instalments equal to three-fourths of the limit imposed by the Election Commission on the election expenditure. These limits would be revised on the eve of every general election and it should be linked to a specialised cost of index series. The amount should be given directly to qualified candidates seeking re-election and not to the parties.The qualification of a minimum of 25% vote would reduce the number of claimants. Apart from this, the recognised parties should be given grants for organisational work and for office expenses. Provisions should be made for the compulsory audit of accounts of political parties by a machinery set up by the Election Commission.

6. Re-work the election time table To help reduce the heavy expenses incurred by the candidates in electioneering, the scrutiny of nomination should be taken up on the day after the last date for making nominations. The interval allowed afterthe scrutiny of nominations for the withdrawal of candidates should be reduced to 15 days.

7. Caretaker Government In the case of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, the Central and state Governments should function only as caretaker governments during a minimum period immediately preceding the election and it should include some leaders of the opposition parties.

8. Adopt proportional representation with list system The present 'majority system should be replaced by a system of proportional representation which will ensure that legislative body i.e., the Lok Sabha and the state Assemblies — more correctly reflect the popular support the different political parties enjoy in a state or in the country. Seats should be allotted in proportion to the valid polled voters of the different political parties. Further we should adopt list system of the proportional representation, as the electorate votes for the party list as a whole.

Tarakunde Committees Recommendations

In August 1974, Jayaprakash Narayan on behalf of the 'Citizens for Democracy' appointed a committee to study and report on a scheme for electoral reforms. Its members were V.M. Tarakunde, M.R.Masani, P.G. Mavalanker, A.G. Noorani, R.D. Desai and E.P.W. Dacosta. This Committee, known as J.P. Committee or Tarakunde Committee, recommended the following.

  1. The Election Commission should be appointed by the President on the advice of a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice.
  2. The Election Comm ission should be a three member body.
  3. The minimum age for voting should be 18 years.
  4. The T.V. and radio should be placed under t he control of an autonomous statutory corporation.
  5. Voter's Councils should be for med in as many constituencies as possible which can help in free and fair elections.

Goswami Committee’s Recommendations

A special committee under the Chairmanship of Mr. Dinesh Goswami, the then Law Minister, was set up early in 1990 to study the problem of electoral system in detail and suggest measures for remedying the flaws in the system. The committee has made the following recommendations —

  1. In order to eradicate booth-captur ing, rigging and intimidation, the Committee has recommended ordering of repoll or countermanding not only on the report of the returning officer but even otherwise and giving the commission the power to appoint investigation agencies, prosecuting agencies and ask for the constitution of special courts.
  2. The committee also called for amendment of the anti-defection law to restrict disqualification only to those cases whereon elected member voluntarily gives up his membership of the political party, or when the votes or abstains from voting contrary to the party whips, directions only in respect of motion of vote of confidence or a motion amounting to non-confidence of a money bill or motion of vote of thanks to the President's address.
  3. For question on switching over from t he present electoral system to proportional representation or the list system the Committee has recommended constitution of an experts committee by the Law Ministry in consultation with the Election Commission.
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