A Welcome Debate On Electoral Reforms

By Moderator July 12, 2019 13:16

SY Qureshi, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India, talked about the recent parliamentary debate over the electoral reforms.

Important Analysis

  • Recently, a short-duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on electoral reforms attracted my attention. It was initiated by Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Derek O’Brien, with the backing of as many as 14 Opposition parties.
  • The TMC MP touched on six major themes —
    • Appointment system for Election Commissioners and Chief Election Commissioner (CEC);
    • Money power;
    • Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs);
    • The idea of simultaneous elections;
    • The role social media (which he called “cheat India platforms”); and
    • The use of government data and surrogate advertisements to target certain sections of voters.

Important issues discussed

  1. Appointment process: On the issue of appointments of Election Commissioners, Mr. O’Brien quoted B.R. Ambedkar’s statement to the Constituent Assembly that

“the tenure can’t be made a fixed and secure tenure if there is no provision in the Constitution to prevent a fool or a naive or a person who is likely to be under the thumb of the executive.”

The demand for revisiting the issue was supported by various opposition parties, all of whom demanded the introduction of a collegium system.

  1. Money Power: As regards the chronic problem of the crippling influence of money power, Mr. O’Brien spoke about various reports and documents —
  • A 1962 private member’s Bill by Atal Bihari Vajpayee;
  • The Goswami committee report on electoral reforms (1990); and
  • The Indrajit Gupta committee report on state funding of elections (1998).
  • Legislatures also Discussed the regressive impact of amending the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) and removing the 7.5% cap on corporate donations.
  • There is also discussion over electoral reforms. Few legislatures termed it “a farce” and gave a proposal for state funding (of political parties) based on either a National Electoral Fund or the number of votes obtained by the respective parties.
  • There was also a proposal for crowdfunding in the form of small donations.
  • It is said that the current expenditure cap on candidates is unrealistic and should either be raised or removed to encourage transparency.
    • Few legislators demand to cap the expenditure of political parties in accordance with a 1975 judgment of the Supreme Court on Section 77 of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951.
    • There are suggestions that expenditure on private planes etc. should be added to the candidates’ accounts and not to those of the party.
  • The banning of corporate donations was passionately advocated by the CPI and the CPI (M).
  1. Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs): The old issue of returning to ballot papers was raised by several parties.
  • The BJD said that to strengthen public faith in Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails, five machines should be counted right in the beginning.
  • The BSP added that postal ballots should be scanned before counting so as to increase transparency.
  • The TMC said that “when technology doesn’t guarantee perfection, you have to question technology.”
    • On the other hand, the BJD, the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) asserted that EVMs have reduced election-related violence in States like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
  1. On simultaneous elections: Many BJP MPs highlighted issues linked to electoral fatigue, expenditure and governance and also reports of the Law Commission and NITI Aayog to push for simultaneous elections.
  • But the opposition said that the solution lies in consulting constitutional experts and publishing a white paper for more deliberation.
  1. Inner party democracy: Internal democracy within political parties was also mentioned by a couple of speakers. The BJD suggested that an independent regulator should be mandated to supervise and ensure inner-party democracy.
  2. For improving the representativeness of elections: For improving the representativeness of elections, the demand for proportional representation system was put forth by the DMK, the CPI and the CPI (M).
  • The DMK cited the example of the BSP’s performance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the party got a vote share of nearly 20% in Uttar Pradesh but zero seats.
  • A number of MPs argued for a mixed system, where there were a provision for both First Past the Post and Proportional Representation systems.
  1. Fidelity of electoral rolls: The important issue of the “fidelity of electoral rolls” was raised by the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP). The idea of a common electoral roll for all the three tiers of democracy was supported by the BJP and the SP.
  2. Ruling party advantage’ in elections: For remedying the ‘ruling party advantage’ in elections, SP MP Ram Gopal Yadav made a radical suggestion that all MPs/MLAs should resign six months before elections and a national government should be formed at the Centre.
  • He said States should be ruled by the Governor who would have to follow the binding advice of a three-member High Court advisory board.

SY Qureshi also talked about the number of electoral reforms he recommended

  • Reducing the number of phases in elections by raising more security forces;
  • De-politicisation of constitutional appointments by appointing Commissioners through a broad-based collegium;
  • State funding of political parties by means of a National Electoral Fund or on the basis of the number of votes obtained;
  • Capping the expenditure of political parties; giving the Election Commission of India (ECI) powers to de-register recalcitrant political parties;
  • Inclusion of proportional representation system; and
  • Revisiting the Information Technology Act, to strengthen social media regulations.

SY Qureshi opined that Indian politics has been suffering from a wide gap between thought and action. The governments should also rise above their obsession with immediate electoral reforms and think of long-term national interests.

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By Moderator July 12, 2019 13:16