MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT

APR 22

Mains   > Polity   >   Election   >   Election Commission

IN NEWS:

  • The elections in West Bengal and Assam have been marked by violations of the Model Code of Conduct.

MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT:

  • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections, to ensure free and fair elections.
  • The MCC is operational from the date that the election schedule is announced till the date that results are announced.
  • The Election Commission ensures that the political parties adhere to the Model Code of Conduct to carry out free and fair polls under Article-324 of the Constitution.
  • The MCC is not enforceable by law.  However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • cVIGIL mobile application is made to register the voter’s complaints regarding violation of the guidelines or any kind of offences in an election.

HISTORY:

  • A form of the MCC was first introduced in the state assembly elections in Kerala in 1960.
  • In the 1962 general elections to the Lok Sabha, the MCC was circulated to recognized parties, and state governments sought feedback from the parties. It continued to be followed in subsequent general elections. 
  • In 1979, the Election Commission added a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage at the time of elections. 
  • In 2014, the Election Commission included guidelines regarding election manifestos in the MCC.
  • The ECI in 2019 had decided to keep social media posts by the political parties and leaders under its vigil for detecting any MCC violation.

KEY PROVISIONS:

  • General Conduct:  Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work.  Activities such as: (a) using caste and communal feelings to secure votes, (b) criticising candidates on the basis of unverified reports, (c) bribing or intimidation of voters, and (d) organising demonstrations or picketing outside houses of persons to protest against their opinions, are prohibited.
  • Meetings:  Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
  • Processions:  If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash.  Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
  • Polling day:  All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges.  These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.
  • Polling booths: Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the Election Commission, will be allowed to enter polling booths.
  • Observers:  The Election Commission will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
  • Party in power: Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.  The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer. Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc.   Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses and these must not be monopolised by the party in power.
  • Election manifestos:  Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.

SIGNIFICANCE OF MCC:

  • Ensures fair and peaceful elections: The codes act as a guideline for all parties to follow. It also lays down procedures to be followed for peaceful campaigning in a constituency. This ensures equality and peaceful conduct of the election process.
  • Prevents misuse of power: By laying down specific guidelines for the party in power, the MCC prevents any form of misuse of government machinery or public exchequer for elections that could create an unfair advantage to them.
  • Protects voters: The codes prohibit bribing or intimidation of voters. It also prohibits parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters. Thus, the codes ensure that voters are not misled and they execute their vote with full freedom.
  • Protects private life: MCC prohibits parties and candidates from criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties.
  • Protection from false claims: Criticism of other parties or their workers based on unverified allegations or distortion are not permitted under the MCC. This provision helps prevent a political squabble to a great extent.
  • Ensures secularism in elections: MCC prohibits places of worship like Temple, Mosque or Gurudwara from being used as forum for election propaganda. Further, the code prohibits appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes.
  • Aligns with changing trends: Over the years, the MCC has adjusted to the changing nature of elections and campaigning. The addition of social media posts into the foray of MCC is a prime example of this.
  • Flexibility: For tackling emergencies or unforeseen calamities like providing relief to people suffering from natural calamities, government may do so after obtaining prior approval of the Commission. But the code also prevents any ostentatious functions or impressions that create an unfair advantage to the Government in office.

ISSUES WITH MCC:

  • No legal backing: Since the MCC itself does not have the force of law, it is enforced through executive decision-making. It remains, therefore, ambiguous and uneven as far as the modality of implementation and certainty of execution, are concerned.
  • Restriction on development: Enforcement of MCC is often cited as a roadblock to developmental process that are already being executed.
  • Judicial delays: As of April 2018, there are over three crore cases pending across India’s courts. Since the duration of the election is about 45 days, case proceedings are rarely completed on time, resulting in poor enforcement of the provisions.  
  • Efficiency of Election commission: In a country with 900 million voters sprawled over 3.2 million square kilometers, the Election Commission lacks the resources and legal expertise to take decisions on cases of MCC violations effectively.
  • Difficult to quantify: The MCC is based on assumption that political parties and candidates would accord importance to issue of propriety, ethics and morality. However, they are subjective and open to varying interpretations.
  • Difficult to monitor social media: Social media has a far and wide reach and it is difficult to keep track of all the campaigning activities through it.
  • Advantage to ruling party exists: The MCC prohibits advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in newspapers/media during the election period.  However, since the MCC comes into operation only from the date on which the Commission announces elections, the government can release advertisements prior to the announcement of elections. This gives an advantage to the ruling party to issue government sponsored advertisements, which gives it an undue advantage over other parties and candidates.

SHOULD MCC BE GIVEN STATUTORY RECOGNITION?

NO:

  • Delays the election process: The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding, stating that elections must be completed within a relatively short time and judicial proceedings typically take longer. Therefore, it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law.
  • Already enforceable: Most provisions of the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • Requires flexibility: The EC needs flexibility to deal with unprecedented situations that can arise at any time. Providing legal backing can take away this freedom and further complicate the election process.
  • Violates the spirit of MCC: MCC is a document designed in consensus with political parties. Any attempt to bind it legally would affect the spirit of consensus arrived at.

YES:

  • Eliminated ambiguity: Providing a legal backing to the code will eliminate the ambiguities that currently surround the MCC.  
  • Empowers the Election Commission: The EC of India has been repeatedly demanding the government for more powers to effectively manage elections. Eg: Explicit powers to postpone or cancel polls if incidents of bribery of voters are reported in any constituency. Providing legal backing to MCC can greatly help overcome this issue.  
  • Supported by committees: The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in 2013, recommended making the MCC legally binding.  Another Standing Committee recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is an important document to ensure procedural certainty and assure fairness in elections. In this regard, critically examine the demand of providing legal status to the MCC?