Free and fair elections are the bedrock of any democracy. In a quasi-federal State like India, elections occur on a three-tier level: Centre, State and local bodies. This means that apart from the Central elections, which occur every five years, every now and then elections are held in some or the other State or local body.
Such frequent elections bring into play a plethora of rules which need to be observed by the parties in order to make the conduct of elections efficient and impartial. This includes the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). The MCC lays down a set of norms which the political parties need to abide by during election time. MCC permits activities of routine administrative nature and puts all the developmental and welfare activities on hold till the elections get over.
A system of non-synchronised elections leads to imposition of the MCC in one or the other State every year. Consequently, welfare activities and development plans of the ruling parties suffer. It is primarily due to this reason that the top leadership of the country has once again started advocating the advent of simultaneous elections.
Apart from the aforementioned issue, simultaneous elections are also touted to be more cost-effective. In consonance with this, the Law Commission of India (LCI) has recently released a draft working paper titled, “Simultaneous Elections—Constitutional and Legal Perspectives” and has asked for feedback on the proposal of introducing simultaneous elections in India. Simultaneous elections typically imply holding synchronised elections for all the tiers of the Government.
However, the Law Commission has suggested simultaneous elections only for the State and Central Legislative Assemblies. The idea to hold simultaneous elections is not a novel one but has been already mooted in 170th Report of the LCI in 1999. It is pertinent to discuss the likely (positive and negative) implications of holding simultaneous elections in India. Some of the key suggestions made by the LCI in this regard are as follows:
(i) One of the first hurdles which the introduction of simultaneous elections poses is that of premature dissolution of assemblies at the Centre and States. If all elections are to be conducted in a synchronised manner, what will happen if the Government at the Centre or the States gets dissolved prematurely. The LCI has suggested that in order to avert this issue, along with a no-confidence motion, a confidence motion should also be introduced in Parliament. Hence, while a no-confidence motion would dislodge the incumbent Government a confidence motion would bring about an alternative Government which would see through the remainder of the term till the holding of the next elections.
(ii) One major issue which arises from the aforementioned suggestion is that how would an alternative Government be formed in the presence of a strong anti-defection law. The LCI further suggests that for the purposes of holding simultaneous elections and preventing a stalemate occurring due to hung Parliament an exception from the anti-defection law should be carved out.
(iii) The statutory limit of six months for the issuance of notification of general elections should be extended in order to make simultaneous elections viable.
(iv) The leader of the majority party should be selected by majority consensus in Parliament.
In order to effect the aforementioned suggestions, the LCI has also recommended the amendment of the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Though, the idea of simultaneous elections sounds extremely efficient, its viability in a country like India with a deep-rooted federal structure may pose concerns.
Let us analyse some pros and cons of the introduction of simultaneous elections and the viability of the same.
(a) One of the major advantages of having simultaneous elections is that the development programmes undertaken by the ruling parties would not be hindered on account of the imposition of the MCC. In an analysis presented by the NITI Aayog, it was observed that on an average the MCC is imposed in some or the other part of the country for a period of 4 months every year. This sets back any welfare plan which the ruling party may have for the State, region or the country concerned as a whole. The holding of simultaneous elections would be an efficient solution to this problem.
(b) The current state of the electoral system leads to incurring of huge financial expenditures on the conduct, control and supervision of elections. The candidates too spend a large amount of money on campaigning. This haphazard holding of elections in the country leads to unnecessary expenditure. Hence, the introduction of simultaneous elections will streamline the process of conducting elections and reduce the financial burden on the country’s exchequers.
(c) Holding of frequent elections also leads to the engagement of military and police personnel for a long period of time, hence affecting the efficient functioning of the system. Simultaneous elections would resolve this issue.
(d) Apart from the above, conducting frequent elections disrupt normal public life and perpetuate divisive factors in the society.
(a) The biggest challenge to the introduction of simultaneous election is the practical aspect associated with it. The Constitution and the relevant statutes need to be amended, a workable plan needs to be devised in order to address issues such as the premature dissolution of Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. Would the introduction of a new concept at this stage create more chaos than calm in the country’s political milieu.
(b) Impact on voter behaviour: The critics of simultaneous elections also argue that the introduction of a novel concept might confuse the average Indian voter and hence, lead to errors in voting. Moreover, the issues involved at the local and national level are different and a simultaneous election may fuse the two hence, leading to inefficiency in voting.
(c) The detractors of simultaneous elections also argue that such a synchronised system of elections would alter the federal character of the Indian Constitution.
Holding simultaneous elections may be a practical dilemma but once perpetuated properly, it would ease out many creases. Effective implementation of this new system is the key to its success.
The authors would like to make the following recommendations pertaining to the simultaneous elections:
(a) Media should be instrumental in sensitising the common people about the nature and purpose of simultaneous elections. They should be made aware of the process and the fact that two sets of elections—Central and state are going to be held. This is imperative to enable an informed voting behaviour.
(b) Carving out an exception to the anti-defection law in order to give effect to the confidence motion in the alternative Government may give rise to a class of opportunist leaders. More democratic processes may be adopted to tackle with the issue of premature dissolution of the assemblies.
(c) Similarly, basing the selection of the leader of the majority party on consensus may pose issues as it may be difficult for the various political parties to unanimously agree on one individual. It may be more advantageous to create a list based on descending order of votes received at the time of elections and if one party is voted out of power, the second largest party may continue for the remainder of the term.
(d) The process of no-confidence vote may also be made more stringent, as it should not become a tool in the hands of the opposition to frequently dislodge the ruling party
* Managing Partner, Corp Comm Legal.
** Associate, Corp Comm Legal.