The Election Commission of India (ECI) is always busy conducting elections to legislative assemblies or to the Lok Sabha. This frequent conduct of elections involves huge expenditure and other resources. The parliamentary standing committee on Law & Justice in its latest report has extended its support for holding simultaneous elections, there by reducing the frequency of elections.
The 79th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice was recently presented in both the houses of Parliament. The report dealt with the issue of‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies’. The committee in its report felt that debate on this important issue should be initiated and an effort should be made for a national consensus to avoid frequent elections.
The Cycle of simultaneous elections got disrupted in late 1960s
The committee noted that the first general election to the Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies was held simultaneously in 1951-52. The practice continued in three subsequent General Elections held in the years 1957, 1962 and 1967. This cycle got disrupted with the dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969. In 1970, the Lok Sabha was itself dissolved prematurely and fresh elections were held in 1971. Thus the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Lok Sabha enjoyed full five year terms. The term of the 5th Lok Sabha was extended till 1977 under article 352 of the constitution (emergency).
The 8th, 10th, 14th and 15th Lok Sabha could complete their full five year terms while the 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 12th and 13th Lok Sabha was dissolved prematurely. As a result of premature dissolutions and extension of terms of both the Lok Sabha and various State Legislative Assemblies, there have been separate elections to Lok Sabha and States Legislative Assemblies and the cycle of simultaneous elections has been disturbed in the last 48 years.
Need for Simultaneous Elections
The need for simultaneous election to Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies has been debated and felt for quite some time now. As elections have become a big budget affair and expensive, The Law Commission of India in its 170th Report on Reform of Electoral Laws (1999) has suggested simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for the sake of stability in governance.
The standing committee mentioned the following broad reasons for exploring simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha & State Assemblies.
- Simultaneous elections would reduce the massive expenditure incurred for conduct of separate elections every year. Presently, the cost of holding elections for Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies of States and UTs has been pegged at Rs.4500 crore by the ECI.
- Elections lead to imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) in the poll bound State/area. The imposition of MCC puts on hold the entire development program and activities of the Union and State Governments affecting the normal governance. Frequent elections lead to imposition of MCC over prolonged periods of time leading to policy paralysis and governance deficit.
- Frequent elections lead to disruption of normal public life and impact the functioning of essential services. 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.
- Simultaneous elections would free the crucial manpower which is often deployed for prolonged periods on election duties. For example, the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was spread over nine phases and 1077 in situ companies and 1349 mobile companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) were deployed.
Suggestions of the Election Commission of India (ECI)
The ECI on its part has suggested the following for the conduct of simultaneous elections.
- The term of the Lok Sabha would normally commence and expire on a particular date.
- The period for general election to constitute the new House has to be determined in such a way that the Lok Sabha could commence its term on the predetermined date.
- In order to avoid premature dissolution, ECI suggested that any ‘no-confidence motion’ moved against the government in office should also include a further ‘confidence motion’ in favour of a government to be headed by a named individual as the future Prime Minister and voting should take place for the two motions together.
- 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, 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, 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.
- The terms of all State Legislative Assemblies should also normally come to an end on the date on which term of the Lok Sabha is expiring. This might mean that as a onetime measure, the term for the existing Legislative Assemblies will have to be either extended beyond five years or curtailed so that fresh elections can be held simultaneously with Lok Sabha election.
- In the case of Legislative Assembly also, in the event of ‘no-confidence motion’, it should be mandatory to simultaneously move a ‘confidence motion’ for formation of an alternative government.
- If, following a general election, none of the parties is able to form a govt. and another general election becomes necessary, the term of the House in such case after the fresh election should be only for the remainder of what would have been the original term. Similarly, if the govt. has to resign for some reason and an alternative is not possible, then provision can be considered for a fresh election if the remainder of the term is for a comparatively longer period.
- Two windows of one-and-a-half months each may be fixed for holding all bye-elections that become due in a particular year.
- If it is considered that the above proposals for having uniform and synchronised term for Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies are not feasible, an alternative proposal would be to consider holding all elections, falling due in a year together in a particular period of the year.
The ECI has also pointed out to the standing committee that several difficulties might be encountered for conducting simultaneous elections. The primary issue is the large scale purchase of Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines. For conducting simultaneous elections, the Commission expects that a total of rupees 9284.15 crores will be needed for procurement of EVMs and VVPATs. The machines would need to be replaced every fifteen years and storing these machines would increase the warehousing cost.
Submissions of Political Parties to the Standing Committee
Various political parties submitted their written response to the standing committee as summarized below.
|AIADMK||Supported the view, but wants deeper discussions on issues that might arise|
|Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)||Supported the idea and feels that it would reduce the financial burden on smaller parties|
|Indian Union Muslim League (IUML)||Supported the idea and feels that it would lead to significant saving in time, energy and resources of the country.|
|DMDK||Supported the idea|
|Shiromani Akali Dal||Supported the idea but wants clarity on possible actions when there is a hung assembly|
|Indian National Congress (INC)||The proposal of holding simultaneous elections, ideal as it may sound is impractical, unworkable and can lead to a scenario where the necessary balance in Indian democracy given the diversity of the country is lost.|
|All India Trinamool Congress (AITC)||Rejected the idea stating that the Constitution provides tenure of five years for the Lok Sabha and Assemblies and feels that the postponement of elections is anti-democratic and unconstitutional. The party however supports holding of simultaneous elections to Panchayats and Municipal bodies.|
|Communist Party of India||The proposal looks ideal, but there are many practical problems. In the present situation it is not feasible to conduct elections to both the Houses at one go.|
|All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)||There exists little feasibility of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and all the State Legislative Assemblies in the current complex political scenario in the country|
|Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)||Holding elections of Lok Sabha and State Assemblies simultaneously is not feasible.|
In South Africa, elections to national as well as provincial legislatures are held simultaneously for five years and municipal elections are held two years later. In Sweden election to national legislature and provincial legislature/county council and local bodies/municipal Assemblies are held on a fixed date i.e. second Sunday in September every four years (last was held on 14th September, 2014 and the forthcoming one is slated on 9th September, 2018).
The Standing Committee’s Recommendations
The standing committee made the following recommendations after going through the various suggestions that were put forward.
- Tenure of State Assemblies needs to be curtailed or extended in the future for holding simultaneous elections. Extension of term of Legislature is not permissible except under proclamation of emergency. But election to Lok Sabha/State Legislative Assemblies can be held six months before. Election of some of Legislation Assemblies where term is ending six months after the General election to Lok Sabha can be clubbed with it but election result can be declared at the end of their tenure.
- The Committee recommended an alternative and practicable method of holding simultaneous elections which involves holding of elections in two phases. Elections to some Legislative Assemblies may be held at midterm of Lok Sabha and remaining with the end of tenure of Lok Sabha. The proposed first phase could be held in November, 2016. Elections to all State Assemblies whose terms end prior to or after a time period of six months to one year from the appointed election date can be clubbed together. The terms of some State Legislative Assemblies may need to be extended while some of them may need to be curtailed. Under Sections 14 and 15 of Representation of People Act, 1951, Election Commission can notify the elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies six months prior to the end of their natural terms, respectively. This provision may be used to hold elections without extension of terms of some Assemblies. Similarly, the second phase of elections can be held in 2019 along with the General Elections to Lok Sabha.
- Bye-elections to all seats falling vacant in a particular year could be conducted together on a pre-determined date/ time frame.
- Gaining consensus of all political parties may be difficult in certain States of the Country. However, in the larger context of economic development and implementation of election promises without creation of the impediments due to enforcement of Model Code of Conduct, the prospects of holding simultaneous elections need to be weighed and deeply considered by all political parties.
The committee feels that the report would open up debate on this important issue and to try and establish national consensus to avoid frequent elections. The committee also mentioned that holding simultaneous elections may not be feasible in 2016 or even in a decade, but a solution will be found to reduce the frequency of elections.