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Amidst the debate around ‘One Nation, One Election’, here is a look at other Electoral Reform proposals

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The country is once again debating ‘One Nation, One Election’ after the recent all party meeting. But what are the other important electoral reforms proposed by the Law Commission & Election Commission?

Soon after Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister for a second successive term, he chaired a meeting of the Presidents of all political parties. Among other things, ‘One Nation, One Election’ or the issue of simultaneous elections was also on the agenda. This has once again brought to the fore the discussion on the rationale of having simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies. The All-party meeting presided by the Prime Minister, the statement of the President in his address to Joint Session of the parliament , Centre setting up of a committee to study the proposal etc. are indicative of the Centre’s push in this direction.

There are arguments both for and against ‘One Nation, One Election” from various sections of political spectrum and civil society. The Law Commission’s Draft report on simultaneous elections observes that while holding simultaneous elections is ideal and desirable, a workable formula needs to be provided in the constitution.

While the Centre positions this as a necessary Electoral reform, there are other electoral reforms, the discussion of which has taken a back seat. We discuss some other important electoral reforms proposed by the Law Commission of India and the Election Commission previously.

Law Commission & ECI’s proposed reforms

The Election Commission of India (ECI), and the Law commission have over the years have provided proposals which could bring in much needed reforms in the election process of the world largest democracy.

The Law Commission of India’s report on Electoral Reforms in 2015 and report published by the ECI in 2016  “Proposed Electoral Reforms”, have suggested various reforms.

Here’s a snapshot of the key recommendations suggested by ECI and Law Commission of India.

Date of Notification instead of Date of Nomination as start date for ceiling on expenditure. 
As per section 77 of Representation of People Act , 1951 there is a ceiling on the expenditure of the candidate from the date of nomination to the date of declaring the results. However, most of the candidates have subverted the ruling by filing the nominations on the last day of filing. The amount spent by the candidates prior to the nomination forms a major chunk of the overall expenditure.

Hence, a change is recommended by the Law Commission of India where the ceiling needs to be placed from Date of election Notification to the Date of Declaring results.

This would help in having a ceiling on the total amount being spent through the process of election campaigning. The change also needs to be made in regard to the rules around the disclosure of the electoral expenditures, in tune with the change in the date.

Electoral Reform proposals__changes

Disclosure of all contribution amounts (subject to a cap of 20 Crores or 20% of total contribution to be Anonymous) 
The Representation of People Act, 1951, Section 29 C lays out the current rules regarding the disclosure of contribution amounts. As per this, the political parties are required to report contributions which are in excess of Rs. 20,000. Furthermore, the transparency guidelines of ECI require all the cash transactions to be accounted for. Though there have been amendments that disallow any cash transactions of more than Rs. 2,000, the limit for reporting contributions hasn’t changed and remains at Rs. 20,000.  It is also common knowledge that Political parties have a way around by showing multiple receipts of less than Rs. 2,000 and thereby avoiding any disclosure of the donors.

The Association for Democratic Reform’s analysis says that only 43% of party funding is said to comprise donations from known sources (contributions upwards of 20000, contributions from electoral trusts etc.) and nearly 53% of the funding sources are undisclosed for the year 2017-18, in the case of national parties.

To avoid this evasion of disclosure, it is recommended that disclosure needs to be made of all the contributions. (Subject to cap of Rs. 20 Crore of 20% of total contribution – whichever is less, can be anonymous). But the implementation of this reform will not be possible without amending the rules for the recently introduced Electoral Bonds as these bonds provide a way for anonymous donations.

Proportional representation instead of First-Past-The-Post System (FPTP)
The current Electoral system followed in the elections to Lok Sabha and respective State Assemblies is the First-Past-The-Post System (FPTP). In this, each voter has a single vote which can be casted in favour of a candidate in the election. The candidate with the greatest number of votes wins the respective Lok Sabha/Assembly Seat irrespective of the percentage of votes in his favour. This is one of the simplest forms of Electoral System. The simple nature and greater scope of stability through majority governments, were the reasons to pick this system for India.

However, over the years, various demerits of the system have been highlighted. Especially in regard to the vote share not reflecting in the number of seats won by a party. Multiple instances over the electoral history of India are found where a slight change in vote share has resulted in a massive change in the number of seats won by a political party.

Proportional Representation System is recommended as an alternative where the number of seats won by a party is proportionate to its vote share. This is a complex system and many variants of the same are followed across the world.

There are multiple models through which a Proportionate Representation System can be implemented, however a detailed study into these models in Indian context needs to be done. The Law Commission of India Report recommends a hybrid system to be explored which benefits from the merits of these systems and mitigates the demerits.

Two years of Imprisonment without alternative clause for filing a false affidavit
The candidates contesting the elections are required to file an affidavit (Form 26) which contains the details regarding their assets, liabilities, educational qualification, criminal record etc. In case of any false affidavit, as per Section 125A of Representation of People’s Act, 1951, the offence is punishable with 6 months of imprisonment or fine or both.

The electorate has the right to know the true information of the candidates contesting in the elections. Hence a false affidavit is an issue of propriety which is a minimum expectation from a candidate.

In view of this, The Law Commission in its 244th report recommended that the punishment for filing false affidavits should be the following. It has also mentioned that these should not be applied in the case of trivial errors.

  • Enhance the sentence to a minimum of two years (under section 125A) with no alternate clause of fine.
  • Disqualification under section 8A of Representation of People Act, 1951.
  • Considered as a corrupt practice under Section 123 of Representation of People Act, 1951.

President/Governor to have the power to disqualify in case of defection on the advice of the Election Commission
Originally, the Constitution of India did not have any mention of political parties. However, political parties are now an integral part of India’s democratic setup. Political defections of elected members has necessitated the introduction of Anti Defection Law, in 1985. This has also led to the insertion of 10th Schedule in constitution of India through the 52nd Amendment Act.

Among others, the law provides for the speaker of the house (Lok Sabha/ Legislative assembly) to decide upon the disqualification of defected members. However, over the years, multiple instances of the alleged misuse of this decision making authority have been witnessed which brings into question the non-partisanship of The Speaker.

In view of this Law Commission recommends for:

  • Amendment in 10th schedule – vesting the power to decide on disqualification due to defection, with the President/Governor, acting upon the advice of Election Commission.
  • The commission also observed that such an amendment would also help in keeping the integrity of the Speaker.

This recommendation is in line with other provisions of disqualification (other than the 10th schedule) where the Election Commission decides on these issues.

While there are many other reforms proposed in these two reports, the ones mentioned above are some of the important ones. It’s time the government and the parliament explores these also in addition to ‘One Nation, One Election’

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