Simultaneous elections in India – Background
- First election after enforcement of constitution in 1952 was conducted simultaneously, and later the elections of 1952, 1957 and 1962 were also the same.
- The liquidation of fourth Lok Sabha brought an end to the process.
- The idea of reverting to simultaneous polls was mooted in the annual report of the Election Commission in 1983. The Law Commission’s Report also referred to it in 1999.
- The push came ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the BJP manifesto. After Prime Minister floated the idea once again in 2016, the Niti Aayog prepared a working paper on the subject in January 2017.
- Recently Union government formed a committee under the headship of former President of India Ram Nath Kovind, to look into the feasibility of simultaneous polls to State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha.
What is Simultaneous Elections
- The idea behind simultaneous elections is to streamline the electoral process by holding both national and state-level elections at the same time.
- Currently, India conducts elections almost every year, with some state elections happening in between Lok Sabha elections. This constant cycle of elections is resource-intensive, disrupts governance, and can lead to a lack of focus on policy implementation.
- Simultaneous elections seek to address these issues by ensuring that the electoral process is more predictable and efficient.
- It will involve restructuring of the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to the states and the centre synchronise. This would also mean that the voters will cast their vote for electing members of the LS and the state assemblies on a single day, at the same time (or in a phased manner as the case may be).
Advantages of Simultaneous Elections
- Saving time and energy: A lot of money and time is being spent on elections. The money could be put to better use. The focus of respective parties is on winning elections in different parts of the country rather than on actual governance. Violence, hate speeches and surcharged atmosphere can disturb the law and order situations .
- Focus on Governance: The system will help ruling parties focus on governance instead of being constantly in election mode.
- Less promotion of individualism over nationalism: Parties, in order to win hearts near the time of elections, declare individualistic policies to lure the voters and not the nationalistic policies. The spirit of policy making gets hampered. Simultaneous elections would stop this.
- Smaller role of corruption, casteism: Party funding would not be required again and again, which would reduce manipulative practices of the parties to raise money. Caste politics won’t be ignited every time elections are round the corner.
- Model code of conduct (MCC): Political parties wouldn’t make unnecessary measures to win elections in the wake of MCC. Frequent imposition of MCC results in standstill of the government machinery, thus hindering development and policy implementation.
- Increase in voting percentage: It has turned out in many researches that voters’ participation is motivated with simultaneous elections. Voting percentage is a serious concern.
Disadvantages of Simultaneous Elections in India
- Advantage to national parties: Regional parties gather their state machinery for the state legislative elections, whereas national parties will gain more momentum with their power in every state.
- Constitutional Amendments needed: Holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies would require at least five constitutional amendments. The five amendments in the Constitution would entail changes to Article 83 relating to the duration of Houses of Parliament, Article 85 relating to the dissolution of the Lok Sabha by the President, Article 172 relating to the duration of the State legislatures, Article 174 relating to dissolution of the State legislatures, and Article 356 relating to the imposition of President’s Rule in States.
- National issues over regional ones: National issues may overpower the regional ones which are equally important to be looked upon. Submerging of regional stories with national issues may create havoc.
- Federal structure would be disturbed: The party in power at the Centre may exercise such powers which may hamper the working of parties in power at state levels.
- Shortage of staff and security: One election in all levels at a time would require large deployment of forces and resources together for secure and smooth functioning, which would be a big challenge. The ignited election mode would require high security.
- Logistics issues – The logistics challenges of holding simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state Assemblies — arranging around 30 lakh electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines.
- Disturbance in system of checks and balances: In a federal structure, the state governments and the central governments, especially when from opposite parties, check each other’s work and evaluate it. This competitive spirit may be curtailed and a lethargic attitude may crawl into working of these governments.
- Reduction of Accountability: Since elections will be held once in every five years, it will reduce the government’s accountability to the people. Repeated elections keep legislators on their toes and increases accountability.
Recommendations if various Committees
- The idea of ‘One Nation, One Election’ was suggested by the Election Commission in 1983. The main reason for such a suggestion was heavy expenditure on elections, deployment of forces affecting their normal course of duties, slowing down of administrative machinery throughout the country etc.
- In 1999, Law Commission in its 170th report suggested that India go back to the concept of simultaneous elections.
- Report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) in 2002 highlighted that amendments with respect to simultaneous elections could be done without disturbing the basic structure of the constitution.
- The 255th Law Commission report discussed amendment to Anti-Defection Law, which is an important subject with respect to simultaneous elections.
- The 79th report presented by Rajya Sabha in December 2015, after consulting various political parties, organisations, individuals and experts, suggested various reforms and conducts. It held that the term of legislatures could not be extended, except during emergency, but elections of Lok Sabha/State Legislative Assemblies could be conducted six months earlier under Section 14 and 15 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. It also suggested conducting of elections in two phases where some state legislative elections are conducted for a shorter term to end their tenure with the tenure of Lok Sabha.
- Recently, the Law Commission headed by B.S. Chouhan released a draft report on simultaneous election :
- Conduct of simultaneous elections: The Commission noted that simultaneous elections cannot be held within the existing framework of the Constitution. Simultaneous elections may be conducted to Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assemblies through appropriate amendments to the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act 1951, and the Rules of Procedure of Lok Sabha and state Assemblies. The Commission also suggested that at least 50% of the states should ratify the constitutional amendments.
- The Commission noted that holding simultaneous elections will: (i) save public money, (ii) reduce burden on the administrative setup and security forces, (iii) ensure timely implementation of government policies, and (iv) ensure that the administrative machinery is engaged in development activities rather than electioneering.
- Commission recommended three alternatives to synchronise elections in India :
- Advancing or Postponing elections in certain states so that elections are only conducted twice in near feature and can move to one election by 2024
- If simultaneous elections cannot be conducted, then the Commission recommended that all elections falling due in a calendar year should be conducted together.