For any democracy to survive, it needs a free and fair election mechanism. Indians are increasingly of the belief that their vote does not count because of the widespread electoral corruption. However, there is very little effort from the political parties to legislate on the electoral reforms. Since they use inefficiencies of the current systems to further their agenda of gaining more power. The electoral process and rules are mainly defined in Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 and The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. Election reforms have been changing over the decades by taking into consideration issues such as voting rights for non-resident Indians, restrictions on election expenditure, etc. However, the electioneering of political parties has evolved in such a way that there must be a complete re-examination of election rules. This article attempts to shed light on the relevant and oft-discussed aspects of election reforms like electoral bonds, simultaneous elections, and campaign expenditure.
The idea of electoral bonds was introduced in the Parliament by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the budget speech of 2017-18. It is currently implemented through a scheme called Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018. Under this scheme, any citizen or group of citizens can buy a bond from specific branches of State Bank of India for any donation above Rs 1000. At the same time, only political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and which secured not less than one percent of the votes polled in the last general election to the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of the State. It should also be noted that those electoral bonds are valid for 15 days from the date of issue. This method of party donations is said to improve transparency over the current method of putting faith in the party to disclose sources of contributions above Rs 20,000. Since many of the transactions are made using cash, and all the donations of above Rs 20,0000 are converted to cheques of Rs 20,000 by the political parties and their donors so that they need not disclose any contributions. The scheme also mentions that names of the donors will be kept a secret. This is because, it was found out that whenever names were disclosed, there was a tendency to shift to cash donations and a possible threat to the donor from the other political parties. However, the other side of the argument is that donors seek anonymity only because they don’t want the quid pro quo to be known by the public. This scheme is not improving the transparency of election donations.
Furthermore, the Government and 255th Law Commission of India have given their support for simultaneous elections. Simultaneous election entails having all the elections in the country at a time reducing the burden on the Election Commission and taxpayers’ money. All the elections were in sync just until 1967. At present, there are some level elections at almost every year of the five years term of a ruling party. The ruling party often uses its resources to win those elections leaving little time and resources for governance. It also affects the economic development of the country as many announcements of the governments would be for the vote bank than the development of the nation. It was also found out that election time breeds corruption, communalism, and casteism. No-confidence motions and minority governments are cited as roadblocks to stable governments and synchronous elections. The proposal for having sustained synchronous elections is that whenever government falls mid-term, then the term of new government will be in power for only the remaining period. Other recommendations for synchronous elections are a no-confidence motion against the government should always be followed by a confidence motion. Later, the leader of the majority party should be elected as Prime Minister or the Chief Minister by the entire house for the stability of the government. For simultaneous elections to happen, the Law Commission proposed that Assembly elections of half of the states should be synced with general elections in 2019 and rest of the Assembly elections should be synced with General Elections by 2024. For making these changes, the parliament should amend the Constitution, Representation of the People Act 1951 and the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies.
However, there is some opposition to simultaneous elections because of its probable consequences in the future. Generally, assembly elections are fought on local issues, but in simultaneous elections, national issues like national security tend to overtake the regional issues like water issues. Regional parties could be ignored in the election debate impeding the federalist nature of the country. Many in the opposition of simultaneous elections have also pointed out that economic activity increases during election time. People also would like to have as many elections as possible as they could ask for as much money as possible who believe that it is the only time when the political parties can do anything for them. Moreover, this exercise of amending laws for simultaneous elections needs support from the majority of the state governments and regional parties.
Paid news during elections is a widespread and pervasive phenomenon. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has stated that Assembly elections held during 2011-2013 alone had 1727 cases of confirmed paid news. Many paid articles or sponsored political content is often posted on social media and other platforms without explicitly mentioning their nature. Often the newspapers exaggerate the winning chances of the candidates and the support they are getting from the public. However, there are no font changes or credits given to the paid articles or advertisement to indicate that it is a sponsored content. These are the rich political parties also have an unfair advantage as they can hire public relations firms and political analyst groups which will sway the voters without any actual debate on the issues that matter. It was reported by The New York Times, alongside The Guardian and The Observer with the information from a whistleblower that Cambridge Analytica stole personal data of millions of Facebook users to use for manipulation in USA elections. The 255th Law Commission made certain recommendations like per-certification of political advertisements, a clear distinction between news and advertisement, the inclusion of notional expenditure of paid news into election expenses, etc.
In the view of above reforms, it should be noted that these reforms are of most importance for fair elections in the country because of the changing modern times. India had successfully conducted elections for the past 68 years. However, it should change its election rules and process according to increase in the interface of digital presence with reality, the influence of fake news on the outcome of elections, the inability of the general public to identify fake news, increase in monetization and criminalization of politics and elections.
Law Commission of India. (2015). Election Reforms. Retrieved from http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report255.pdf
Quraishi, S.Y. (2017, March 31). A time for electoral reform. Indian Express. Retrieved from http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/evm-manipulationvote-counting-election-
Raman, A. (2018, March 7). It is time to have a debate on proportional representation, says ex-CEC S.Y. Quraishi. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/it-is-time-to-have-a-debate-on-proportional-representation/article22951889.ece
Sampath, G. (2017, November 21). The danger of electoral bonds. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-danger-of-electoral-bonds/article20602008.ece
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