One Nation One Election (ONOE)
2023 SEP 6
Polity > Election > Electoral reforms
- Central government has set up a panel headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind to explore the feasibility of the ‘One Nation, One Election’ (ONOE) plan.
- Simultaneous election is defined as structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner such that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are synchronised together.
- In such a scenario, a voter would normally cast his/her vote for electing members of Lok Sabha and State Assembly on a single day and at the same time.
- It is not a novel concept in India. The elections in 1952, 1957 and 1962 were held simultaneously. However, the cycle was first broken in 1959 after the Centre invoked Article 356 (failure of constitutional machinery) to dismiss the then-Kerala government.
- Subsequently, due to defections and counter-defections between parties, several Legislative Assemblies dissolved post-1960, which eventually led to separate polls for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
- Currently, the assembly polls in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha are held together with the Lok Sabha elections.
- The proposal to revert to ONOE was initially introduced in 1983 by the Election Commission and later by the Law Commission in its 1999 Report.
- However, the pace started picking up after its mention in the BJP manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
NEED FOR ONE NATION ONE ELECTION
- Indian polity is perennially in an election mode:
- Barring a few years within a normal 5-year tenure of the Lok Sabha, the country witnesses, on an average, elections to about 5-7 State Assemblies every year.
- Promote good governance:
- As elections are frequent, parties and governments are always in campaign mode. If simultaneous elections are held, it will give a clear four years to the political parties to focus on governance.
- Promote developmental work:
- The model code of conduct curtails some powers of an incumbent government during elections, resulting in delays in implementing welfare schemes which are already underway. A single election can restrict this delay to once every five years.
- Reduce election expenditure:
- Frequent elections lead to massive expenditures by political parties and other stakeholders. Simultaneous elections offers an opportunity to optimize the expenses.
- Further, when elections are held independently, entire expenditure on actual conduct of elections to Lok Sabha and state legislatures is borne by Government of India and respective State Governments respectively.
- If concurrent election to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assembly is held, then the expenditure can be shared between Central and respective State Governments.
- Better manpower management:
- Frequent elections lead to a lock-in of CAPF and state police forces for prolonged periods. This takes away a portion of the force which could otherwise be better deployed for other internal security purposes. Synchronised polls will reduce the frequency of diversion of forces from their normal duties.
- Invisible and incalculable socio-economic costs:
- Due to election duties, each election also means teachers missing from schools and colleges, the entire revenue machinery on election-related work, officers and vehicles put to use on elections
- Break Politics-corruption nexus:
- As elections happen frequently, political parties are constantly looking for the inflow of funds. This is considered as one of the key drivers for corruption and black-money in the country. Simultaneous elections could open up possibilities to address the above systemic problems.
- Break the perpetual cycle of social evils:
- Elections are polarizing events which have accentuated casteism, communalism, corruption and crony capitalism. If the country is perpetually on election mode, there is no respite from these evils.
- Reduce disruption of public life:
- Frequent elections lead to disruption of normal public life and impact the functioning of essential services. Eg: Holding of political rallies disrupts road traffic and also leads to noise pollution.
- If simultaneous elections are held, this period of disruption would be limited to a certain pre-determined period of time.
- Promote competitive populism:
- Given the desperation of parties to win elections, there is a tendency to squander resources on short-term, unproductive freebies at the cost of infrastructure, quality education and healthcare. This can be reduced to a great extend through simultaneous elections.
CHALLENGES TO IMPLEMENTATION:
- Legislative changes:
- Such a change requires a major overhaul of the existing legislations like the Constitution, the Representation of the People’s Act 1951 and the Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha and State Assemblies.
- Example: Article 356 on the powers to impose President’s rule in the states will have to be loosened.
- Example: Articles 83(2) and 172(1) on, respectively, the terms of the Lok Sabha and state assemblies will have to be modified to allow for curtailing/extending the terms of the legislature.
- Synchronizing elections:
- The terms of a large number of state assemblies will have to be curtailed/extended for an initial synchronisation of the state elections with that to the Lok Sabha.
- Synchronizing the election calendar in any given state with that of the Centre would deprive a state of one of the essential elements of Westminster democracy - A government may choose to dissolve itself, or a government may fall if it loses its majority.
- Attaining consensus:
- To create a workable framework, support and consensus from opposition parties, state governments, regional parties and pressure groups is needed. This would be challenging, given the wide diversity of Indian politics.
- Inadequate manpower:
- There is a dearth of security and administrative officials to conduct simultaneous free and fair elections throughout the country in one go.
- Eg: According to a report issued by Common Cause in 2019, the Indian police force is at only 77% of its sanctioned strength.
- Operational challenges:
- Incremental requirement of EVMs and personnel is likely to pose a big challenge to the operational feasibility of simultaneous elections.
CONCERNS OVER SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS:
- Against federalism:
- Clubbing elections amounts to diluting federal system in favor of centralization.
- This leads to homogenization of the country, instead of bringing equity, sustaining plurality, and promoting local and regional leadership.
- Erosion of accountability:
- Having to face electorate more than once every 5 year enhances the accountability of politicians and parties. It often forces governments to reconsider their plans and policies after each election. But simultaneous election would give governments immunity from public scrutiny.
- Impact on voter behaviour:
- Not all voters are highly educated to know who to vote for. There is a high chance that the voter will vote for the same party for both the state and centre.
- Issue of dissolution/byelection:
- The occasional dissolution of governments/byelections in India is all but inevitable. In such cases, the election cycle would go out of sync.
- In case of dissolution, the only option would be to bring in President’s rule until the next synchronized election cycle, which violated democratic values.
- Sidelines regional parties and issues:
- In simultaneous elections, the national narrative submerges the regional story, which pushes smaller parties, local issues and the concerns of marginalized communities to the sidelines.
- Diversity of India:
- The Law Commission's recommendations of simultaneous elections specifically drew from countries like Sweden, Belgium and South Africa. Unlike India, they are relatively small, less diverse nations and the electoral systems are based on proportional representation. Hence, the applicability of such models in India are questionable.
- No effect on individual election expenses:
- Simultaneous elections cannot bring down the expenses of the candidates. Practical experience shows that candidates would be spending the same amount by adopting innovative methods.
- Conducting election in two phases:
- Parliamentary Standing Committee suggested that simultaneous elections be considered in two-phases.
- Phase I is suggested to be in sync with that of the Lok Sabha elections.
- Phase II is suggested approximately mid-way in the term of the Lok Sabha.
- Thus, it is envisaged to conduct elections every 2.5 years (30 months) in the country once the entire electoral cycles of Lok Sabha and all State Assemblies are synchronized.
- Election commission recommendation to avoid premature dissolution:
- In case of Lok Sabha:
- Any 'no-confidence motion' moved should also necessarily include a further 'confidence motion' in favour of a government to be headed by a named individual as the future Prime Minister.
- In spite of the above arrangement, if there is a situation where dissolution of Lok Sabha cannot be avoided, then the following options can be considered:
- If the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha is not long (period to be specified), there could be a provision for the President to carry out the administration of the country, on the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers to be appointed by him till, the time the next House is constituted at the prescribed time.
- If the remainder of the term is long (period to be specified), then fresh election may be held and the term of the House in such case should be for the rest of what would have been the original term.
- In the case of Legislative Assembly:
- In the event of a 'no-confidence motion', it should be mandatory to simultaneously move a 'confidence motion' for formation of an alternative government.
- This will, in normal course, eliminate cases of premature dissolution of Assemblies.
- If for any unavoidable reason, any existing Legislative Assembly has to be dissolved prematurely, there should be a provision for the Governor to carry out the administration of the State, on the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers to be appointed by him, or for the imposition of the President's Rule, till period of expiry of term.
- Schedule of Bye-elections:
- The Parliamentary Standing Committee recommended that bye-elections to all seats that become vacant during a year may be conducted together during a pre-determined time period.
- Law Commission recommendations:
- Law Commission of India had suggested that elections of legislative assemblies whose term ends six months after the general elections to Lok Sabha can be clubbed together. The results of such elections can be declared at the end of the assembly’s tenure
- Simultaneous elections could be adopted easily, but it has doubtful and difficult implications.
- The basic poll reforms, on the other hand, are difficult to push through but have durable positive implications to the parliamentary democracy and federal system that we have adopted.
- Such reforms can include adopting proportional representation or hybrid system of elections in place of the first-post-the past electoral system (FPTP), improving intra party democracy, transparency and bringing them under the framework of Right to Information Act, prospecting the idea of state funding of elections etc.
Q. Simultaneous election has the potential to transform Indian electoral system, but major hurdles remain in the path to its successful implementation. Discuss.