Simultaneous elections – History & Idea

Simultaneous elections – History & Idea

  • Simultaneous elections were held in 1951-52, 1957, 1962 and 1967. The cycle was disrupted due to premature dissolution of Assemblies and, in 1970, Lok Sabha, too, was dissolved early. 
  • The Election Commission had suggested as early as in 1983 that a system should be evolved so that elections to Lok Sabha and state legislative Assemblies could be held simultaneously. 
  • The Law Commission said in its 170th Report in May 1999 that we must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once.
  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee in its December 2015 report recommended:
    • An alternative and practicable method of holding simultaneous elections which involves holding of elections in two phases — halfway into the term of the Lok Sabha for some Assemblies, and at the end for the rest. 
    • It proposed that terms of current Assemblies be curtailed or extended to align with the new simultaneous elections cycle.
  • Former President Pranab Mukherjee, in his address to the joint session of Parliament last year, too, expressed concern over frequent elections and called for a constructive debate on the issue. 
  • NITI Aayog in a discussion paper titled “Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The What, Why, and How”, defined simultaneous elections as “structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are synchronised together”.

What is the system in other countries?

  • In 2011, the UK fixed May 7, 2015 as election day, and voting on the first Thursday of May every fifth year. 
  • South Africa and Sweden hold national and provisional elections simultaneously every five years. 
  • But many other large democracies do not have such a system.

Challenges:

  • As per current constitutional provisions, it is almost impossible to achieve simultaneous elections in practice as Assemblies might get dissolved at an untimely manner. 
  • Earlier dissolution is brought about by several methods like Article-356 imposition, No-Confidence motion or advice by PM/CM for premature dissolution.
  • However, according to Article 85 and Article 174, elections to Lok Sabha and Legislative assemblies have to be held within six months (respectively) of dissolving either of them. 
  • This is not feasible if elections are held only at fixed duration. Also, if elections are not held within six months, it would be a travesty of democracy.
  • So, it is possible only when all the necessary amendments to the Constitution, Representation of the People Act, and other relevant laws are made. And for this all political parties have to be taken on board.

Recommendation: The Election Commission has suggested that:

  • The term of Lok Sabha could commence and end on predetermined dates.
  • And, to avoid premature dissolution, no-confidence motions should be moved simultaneously with a confidence motion for the individual hoping to be the next PM. 
  • If the House is still dissolved, the President can run the government for the rest of the term — or, if that period is long, fresh elections can be held for a House that would last only for the remaining length of time. 
  • Assemblies can, as a one-time measure, be extended or curtailed to align their elections with the Lok Sabha cycle.

Advantages of holding simultaneous elections:

  • Reduction in expenditure: 
    • The NITI Aayog paper said the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 had cost the exchequer about Rs 1,115 crore, and the 2014 elections, about Rs 3,870 crore. 
    • The Centre for Media Studies estimated that an undeclared Rs 30,000 crore was spent on the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. 
    • The Election Commission of India, on its part, has estimated the cost of holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state Assemblies at Rs 4,500 crore.
  • Reduction in black money: Massive expenditures by various stakeholders on frequent elections lead to generation and usage of black money.
  • Cooperative federalism: Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently spoke about how frequent elections and campaigns hurt the federal structure as leaders were “forced to talk politically”. 
  • Minimizing faultline: Many have argued that election campaigns end up sharpening faultlines of caste, religion and community across the country.
  • Development programmes: The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) puts on hold all development programmes.  So simultaneous election will reduce the MCC and hence improve the development programmes.
  • Security personnel and other staff: It would free up large numbers of security personnel and other staff which impact essential services and burden human resource with prolonged periods of election duty.
  • Low Disruption to normal public life: Elections are huge disruptors of normal life — simultaneous elections would reduce disturbance from political rallies, etc.

What do critics of the idea argue?

  • On amendment of Constitution: Critics say amending the Constitution to effect simultaneous elections would fundamentally alter its democratic and federal character. 
  • Federal structure: India is a “Union of States”, states have their own directly elected governments, and fixing a term adversely affects this right, they say.
  • Logistics issues: The deployment of security forces and officials in 700,000 polling stations located in widely varying geographic and climatic conditions all at the same time will be extremely difficult. 
  • Machine availability and cost factor: Buying Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines would cost Rs 9,284.15 crore, the EC told the House panel.
  • Mixing of issues: 
    • State and national elections are often fought on different sets of issues — and in simultaneous elections, voters may end up privileging one set over the other in ways they might not have done otherwise. 
    • This could lead to national issues being ignored, or, conversely, local issues being swept away by a national ‘wave’.
  • Performance of government: 
    • Fixed terms would militate against the freedom that a government has to go back to the people any time to refresh its mandate.
    • The result of elections at various levels can ensure the government the necessary ‘course correction’ and will keep the politicians in touch with ‘pulse of the public’.

What have political parties said? 

  • The BJP has always been keen on simultaneous elections. The BJP manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls had said: “Evolve method of holding Assembly and Lok Sabha elections simultaneously.” 
  • The AGP and AIADMK backed the idea.
  • The Congress told the House panel that it was “impractical” and “unworkable”; the Trinamool said it was anti-democratic and unconstitutional; the CPI and NCP said it was “not feasible”; the CPM pointed to “practical problems”. 

What are the immediate political ramifications of the idea?

  • Commentators have noted in recent weeks that the escalating clamour for “One Nation, One Poll” has coincided with speculation about a snap Lok Sabha election. 
  • Hypothetically, if Lok Sabha elections are held within a year, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya would simultaneously have new Assemblies, while Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh too will have relatively new Houses. 
  • If elections in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh,Telangana, Maharashtra and Haryana are brought forward, they too, will be added to the list. 
  • And in five years, if elections could be delayed in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur (or polls to Lok Sabha and the above Assemblies could be advanced), a major part of the country would be having elections at the same time.

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