The Election Commission (EC) has come under intense scrutiny over the last few weeks for its inability to take swift action against those violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). Philosophy
- The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a consensus document. In other words, political parties have themselves agreed to keep their conduct during elections in check and to work within the Code.
- The philosophy behind the MCC is that parties and candidates should show respect for their opponents, criticise their policies and programmes constructively.
- The MCC is intended to help the poll campaign maintain high standards of public morality and provide a level playing field for all parties and candidates.
Coverage of MCC
- Kerala was the first state to adopt a code of conduct for elections in 1960.
- Election Commission decided to emulate Kerala’s example and circulate the draft among all recognised parties and state governments for the Lok Sabha elections of 1962.
- However, it was only in 1974, just before the mid-term general elections, that the EC released a formal Model Code of Conduct.
- The MCC has been revised on several occasions since then. The last time this happened was in 2014 when the Commission introduced Part VIII on manifestos, pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court.
Features of MCC
- The Code prohibits political parties or candidates from aggravating existing differences or creating mutual hatred between different religions, castes and communities.
- It bars candidates and parties from criticizing leaders or workers on their personal life.
- No appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes is allowed under the Code.
- It forbids ministers from using official machinery for election work and combining official visits with electioneering.
- MCC is not a legally enforceable document, and the Commission usually uses moral sanction to get political parties and candidates to fall in line.
Powers of EC under MCC
- However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced by invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 and the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951.
- MCC comes into force as soon as the election schedule is announced, and stays in force until the election process is completed.
- The ECI can issue a notice to a politician or a party for alleged breach of the MCC either on its own or on the basis of a complaint by another party or individual.
- Once a notice is issued, the person or party must reply in writing — either accepting fault and tendering an unconditional apology or rebutting the allegation. In the latter case, if the person or party is found guilty subsequently, he/it can attract a written censure from the ECI.
- The ECI can take a range of actions in case of violation of the Code, including censure, advise or pull up the person found violating it, the imposition of fine, filing of FIR that leads to imprisonment, or even cancelling the polls in that constituency.
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- Law Commission of India in its report on Electoral Reforms in 2015 recommended that the ECI should impose restrictions on advertisements for up to six months prior to the date of expiry of the House/Assembly.
- The moral authority of MCC should not be underestimated even if the ultimate punishment under the model code is advice, warning, censure or reprimand. Its contribution towards forming public opinion is firm.
- The moral authority of the model code is very strong and the leaders are actually scared of getting a notice under the model code.
- ECI must not hesitate to resort to its extraordinary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to impose the MCC.
- Should MCC be made legally enforceable? EC has argued that making the Code legally enforceable would be self-defeating because any violation must be responded to quickly and this will not be possible if the matter goes to court.