Significance: Prime Minister of India has suggested having simultaneous elections to legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha. Recently while addressing the gathering on National Law Day 2017, he continued to pitch in for conducting simultaneous elections to the Loksabha and State Legislative Assembly. the Union Government sought views of the general public on MyGov web portal to examine this idea and to evolve solutions to its attendant issues.
Why the idea of simultaneous elections got support?: Frequent electoral cycles in elections to State Assemblies, elections to the third tier of Government, bye-elections etc. end up negatively impacting administrative and developmental activities in the poll-bound states/regions and the larger governance process in general as well.
As a result, the Law Commission of India headed by Hon’ble Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy in its One Hundred Seventieth Report on Reform of Electoral Laws recommended simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies while examining measures for improving the electoral system in the country.
What is simultaneous election: It is a procedure where elections to all the three tiers of constitutional institutions take place in a synchronized and coordinated fashion. It effectively means that a voter casts his vote for electing members for Lok Sabha and State Assembly on a single day and at the same time.
Were simultaneous elections conducted in India: YES. After adoption of the Constitution, the elections to Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies were held simultaneously between 1951 till 1967 when the cycle of synchronized elections got disrupted.
Constitutional and statutory provisions regarding election timing: Article 83(2) provides for a term of five years for Lok Sabha, from the date of its first sitting unless dissolved earlier. Similar provisions under Article 172 (1) provides for five-year tenure for State Legislative Assembly from the date of its first sitting. Article 85 (2)(b) of the Constitution of India provides the President with the power to dissolve Lok Sabha. A similar provision for dissolution of State Legislative Assemblies by the Governor of State is provided under Article 174 (2)(b).
The Representation of People Act 1951 covers various modalities of conducting elections in the country. It provides the statutory basis for ECI to conduct elections in the country Section 14 of the Act provides for the notification for General Elections to the Lok Sabha. Section 15 (2) of the Act provides a similar provision for State Legislatures.
Why simultaneous elections:
- Impact on Governance due to the imposition of Model Code of Conduct: With frequent elections, barring the routine administrative activities, other development programs, welfare schemes, capital projects etc. remain largely suspended till the time the MCC is applicable and in the area, it is in operation. For example, in 2014 about seven months got impacted by the imposition of MCC- 3 months across the country and 2 months each in Haryana and J&K.
- Frequent elections lead to massive expenditures by Government & other stakeholders: Every year, the Government of India and/or respective State Governments bear expenditures on account of conduct, control and supervision of elections. For example, expenditure for 2009 Lok Sabha elections was about Rs. 1115 crores, the same for the year 2014 more than tripled to about Rs. 3870 crores.
- Engagement of security forces for significantly prolonged periods can be avoided: The Election Commission of India takes help of a significant number of polling officials as well as armed forces to ensure smooth, peaceful and impartial polls. While conducting elections to the 16th Lok Sabha, the ECI took the help of approximately 10 million personnel as polling officials for running and supervising the election process across 9,30,000 Polling Stations of the country.
- Other Issues like disruption of normal public life due to elections can be reduced. Also, frequent elections perpetuate caste, religion and communal issues across the country. Frequent elections adversely impact the focus of governance and policymaking. While having frequent elections electoral compulsions change the focus of policymaking. Short-sighted populist and politically safe measures are accorded higher priority over difficult structural reforms which may be more beneficial to the public from a longer-term perspective. It leads to sub-optimal governance and adversely impacts the design and delivery of public policies and developmental measures.
India needs a rapid transformation, not gradual evolution. It requires a huge structural change in mindset that could potentially provide the much-needed space for Governments to focus on long-term transformational measures without worrying about the next impending election.
- Operational feasibility: Conducting simultaneous election in such a geographically diverse and bigger country like India may not be practical after all.
- Impact on voter behaviour: Voters may not be informed after all. This could result in them not differentiating between the voting choices for State Assembly and Loksabha.
- Reduced Accountability: Representatives need not face another election for 5 years, thus they may not interact with the public for another five years in worst case.
- Economic growth dampens: At grass root level, so many jobs are created during elections, these may also be lost with simultaneous elections.
- Reverse deepening democracy: Because people will not get much chance to interact with MLA/MP in such a scenario.
Conclusion: It is difficult to quantify the gains from simultaneous elections.This would require estimating the impact of those policies which should have been done but could not be done due to electoral compulsions. Proposed two-phase elections can be adopted as the most feasible solution. Phase I (Lok Sabha + 14 States): AprilMay2019, Phase II (remaining States):Oct-Nov 2021. This concept is in-sync with the proposal of the Parliamentary Standing Committee