Now that the Karnataka elections have concluded, reports are emerging that suggests that it has been one of the ‘most expensive’ assembly elections.
A report published in The Indian Express, suggests that between Rs 9,500-10,500 crore was spent by various political parties and their candidates in the Karnataka assembly polls. This is more than twice of what was reportedly spent in the previous assembly poll in the state in 2013.
The cost of such elections, the inevitable allegations of corruption and vote buying along with the expense of providing security and the logistics of conducting one election after another is raising the call for electoral reform across the country.
Among many ideas, ‘One Nation, One Election’ is a reform the present central government is exploring.
The Election Commission put forth this idea as early as 1983.
Later, the Law Commission headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, in its May 1999 report, said, “We must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once”.
The theory asks for all elections to take place on the same day every five years. Reformers and reports backing this theory suggest that by doing so, we would be able to save costs, resources and time.
Some of the voices that have come out in support of this include former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi, who says in an interview to Bloomberg Quint, “From the Election Commission’s point of view this is the easiest thing to happen. The voter is the same, polling stations are the same, and the security needed is the same.”
“Once the voter enters the polling station, whether he votes for one election or two or three – it is the same thing.”
“The only problem I see is that the number of machines needed has to be increased. It also requires a political consensus.”
Here are some of the advantages of implementing this:
1. Reducing government expenditure
Preparing and conducting elections costs the public exchequer hundreds of crore each time. The money is mostly spent on arrangements, salaries and security. Holding simultaneous polls will lead to significant savings of public funds that can be better utilised elsewhere.
2. More time for development work
With elections taking place at various schedules, political parties and ministers are always in election mode. This disrupts and distorts agendas with parties deferring reforms or make decisions with short-term views, thereby depriving citizens of clear policies.
Holding simultaneous elections will ensure that the ministers can dedicate a good four years towards implementing policies and doing constructive work for their constituencies.
3. Reducing party expenses
All political parties spend large sums of money in ensuring that no stone is left unturned during campaigning.
Being in constant election mode means that parties are continually trying to keep their coffers full, while spending on multiple elections – a bit like trying to fill a leaking pot with water.
One election every five years across all levels will lower the cost of elections to parties, and thus reduce their need for ‘donations’.
4. Better deployment of security forces
Other than money, the other significant resource needed in abundance is the deployment of security forces. Holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures it will free up security forces, who are diverted from their core duties for each election.
5. Model Code of Conduct (MCC) prevents announcements of new schemes
With elections being announced the MCC comes into force.
This prevents the government from announcing any new schemes, make any new appointments, transfers or postings without the approval of the election commission.
This often hampers the regular functioning of the government.
This being said, India’s track record when it comes to ‘One nation One election’ has not been very effective. From 1951 until 1967 India did follow this scheme. However, due to the premature dissolution of some states, the system got disturbed, and these non-predictable events kept taking place at the Centre and among the state governments. This is why elections are so complicated today.
Here are the disadvantages of the idea:
1. Overshadowing the states
One fallout of implementing this is that a bigger ‘centralised’ agenda would overshadow the states and their regional issues. The current diffused system allows each state to push their individual agenda during state elections – something that would be difficult to do in collective polls.
2. Reduced mind-share of state-level parties
Separate state elections allow regional parties to attract voters in the gap between central polls – since one would be voting separately for the Union and the state.
Combining state and national polls gives an undue advantage to national parties (who can appeal on a pan-Indian scale) over state-level parties.
In the multitude of messages, the attention that these smaller parties can attract will be severely limited.
3. Hung assemblies, coalition shifts
While the theory of a unified election sounds elegant and straightforward, the framework still does not satisfactorily address what happens in situations necessitating fresh elections before the five-year term lapses – like a hung assembly, or if the assembly is dissolved due to a no-confidence motion etc. This is almost inevitable and will break the system all over again.
Of course, this reform is still far off since there are many gaps, which need to be addressed for synchronising elections across such a vast country like India. Whether it will be implemented or not is something only time will tell.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)
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