Simultaneous elections in India
Polity > Election > Electoral reforms
- As the elections in four states and one Union territory in March-April are suspected to have contributed to the second wave of Covid infections, debate on the concept of “one nation, one election” has resurfaced.
- 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 dissolution of the fourth Lok Sabha effectively ended the process to date.
- The proposal to revert to this idea 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.
WHY WE NEED SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS:
- Reduce election expenditure:
- If concurrent election to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assembly is held, then the expenditure can be shared between Government of India and respective State Governments.
- 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.
- Better manpower management:
- The deployment of officials and police for poll duty will happen only once in five years if there are synchronised polls. This will indeed reduce the frequency of diversion of the officials and police from their normal duties.
- Break Politics-corruption nexus:
- As elections happen frequently, political parties are constantly looking for the inflow of funds. This is blamed as one of the key drivers for corruption and black-money in the country. Hence, 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. Holding simultaneous elections would certainly help in this context.
- 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
CHALLENGES TO IMPLEMENTATION:
- Legislative changes:
- Such a change requires a major overhaul of the existing legislations like the Constitution and the Representation of People’s Act. Eg:
- Article 356 on the powers to impose President’s rule in the states will have to be loosened.
- 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.
- 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 difficult, given the wide diversity of Indian politics.
- Inadequate manpower:
- There is a dearth of enough 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.
- 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. In the least disruptive of proposals, this curtailment/extension can be up to 30 months.
- Operational challenges:
- Incremental requirement of EVMs and personnel is likely to pose a big challenge to the operational feasibility of simultaneous elections.
WHY WE DON’T NEED 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 behavior:
- 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 center.
- 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:
- Critics argue that simultaneous elections would benefit larger national parties at the cost of regional parties. 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. However, 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.
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 has durable positive implications to the parliamentary democracy and federal system that we have adopted. Such reforms can include:
- Creating a cycle of elections, according to which elections to some legislative assemblies whose term end within six months to one year before or after the election date could be held during the midterm of Lok Sabha. For the rest of the states, elections could be held along with the general elections to Lok Sabha.
- 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.
- Strengthening Election commission to monitor poll expenditure at all levels and become an effective regulator in conducting free and fair elections.
- Eliminating bogus electors from electoral roll with the help of IT enabled tools such as electronic voter ID cards.
- Prospecting the idea of state funding of elections.
Q. Simultaneous election has the potential to transform Indian electoral system, but major hurdles remain in the path to its successful implementation. Discuss?