Election Commission in favour of simultaneous elections, but flags need to amend Constitution for implementation

The idea of simultaneous elections has commenced its movement through the Centre's bureaucracy as The Times of India reported that the Union law ministry has taken advice from the Election Commission and has processed an internal note on the issue. The Commission supports simultaneous elections but noted that multiple Articles of the Constitution will have to be amended to make it a reality. Among these are Article 83 (duration of Houses of Parliament), Article 85 (prorogation/dissolution of Houses of Parliament), Article 172 (duration of state legislatures), Article 174 (prorogation/dissolution of state legislatures) and Article 356 (President's Rule). The Commission also recommended widespread consultation with political parties.

The Commission also flagged the need for additional EVMs/VVPATs which will have to be acquired for about Rs 2,000 crore, according to the report. Along with its observations, the Commission said, "In order to avoid premature dissolution, it may be provided that any 'no-confidence motion' moved against the government in office should also necessarily include a further 'confidence motion' in favour of a government to be headed by a named individual as the future PM and voting should take place for two motions together."

The Commission's views seem in line with statement made by Chief Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat in January. Rawat had advised caution on the issue, saying the legal framework required to hold the two elections together will take a "lot of time" to get ready. "We cannot put the cart before the horse. Logistical issues are subservient to the legal framework. Unless legal framework is in place, we don't have to talk about anything else because the legal framework will take a lot of time — making the constitutional amendment to (changing) the laws — all the process will take time," he said. He said once the legal framework is ready, the EC will deliver.

President, prime minister and former CECs support idea

In January, it was reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked NDA leaders to works towards creating an environment in favour of holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. Modi had said the leaders can start debating the matter and help create a positive atmosphere in its favour. The Prime Minister emphasised on the need for holding the polls together, saying a continuous cycle of elections across the country harms developmental works due to enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct, besides incurring a huge cost.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

President Ram Nath Kovind too, in his address to both Houses of Parliament at the beginning of the Budget Session, stressed the need for a 'sustained debate' on simultaneous elections and said that frequent elections impose a huge burden on human resources, and impede the development process.

Former Chief Election Commissioners have also come out in support of the idea. Former chief election commissioners N Gopalaswami and SY Quraishi on Wednesday said that it will be cost and time effective for a country like India. "If the question is whether the Election Commission will be able to conduct such an election. The answer is an emphatic yes," Gopalswami, who was the Chief Election Commissioner between 2006 and 2009, told Firstpost.

Quraishi, who served as the chief election commissioner between 2010 to 2012, said, "Logistically, it is the most convenient and the best idea. This is because voter is the same, the polling station is the same, the staff and the security is also the same."

It is however clear that the idea will take some times to come to fruition as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in an exclusive interview on Saturday with Network18 said that he does not see the possibility of Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh being held together. However, Jaitley also stated that the government is in favour of holding simultaneous elections. He further stated that the Constitution would not permit pushing back of state elections for this purpose. "Till the time the Constitution is changed, and there is consensus on the issue, the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections will not overlap. And going by the reactions the issue has evoked, it seems people (Opposition) are not in favour of any such move."

Idea has also seen some opposition

The idea has also gotten flak from the Opposition and policy experts. Congress leader P Chidambaram termed it another "election jumla" (gimmick) by the Modi government, saying it cannot be done under the current constitutional provisions. "In a parliamentary democracy, especially when we have 30 states, under the present Constitution you cannot have simultaneous election. This is another of these election jumla. One nation, one tax was a jumla. Now one nation, one election is a jumla."

Lawyer Alok Prasanna Kumar has insisted that the argument against simultaneous elections is stronger as the holding of simultaneous elections dramatically shrinks the choices of the electorate. It advantages national parties over regional or local ones and might privilege 'national issues' over local ones. He argued that unless the Constitution is fundamentally and irretrievably altered to replace the current form of parliamentary democracy with a purely presidential one, along the lines of the United States model, simultaneous elections are simply not possible.

K Nageshwar called the idea unconstitutional, undemocratic and impractical. He argued that the political scenario of a diverse country is unsuitable for simultaneous elections. Further the proposal also goes against federal principles.

Updated Date: Feb 05, 2018 12:08 PM

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