By Harihar Swarup
Now that the Narendra Modi government is firmly in saddle, it has re-opened the issue of linking Lok Sabha and assembly elections as was the practice till 1967. The argument advanced in favour of linking both elections are in these lines. It is argued that one of the major factors impending growth, development and implementation of policies is the fact that the nation is perennially in an election mode, witnessing more than five state assembly elections every year.
Simultaneous elections, by definition, means voting to elect representatives of the Lok Sabha and and state assemblies on one particular day. Historically, Sukumar Sen, the first Chief Election Commissioner, conducted the first elections in 1951 to the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies at the same time and this practice continued till 1967 when the system got disrupted.
The inability to hold simultaneous elections gives rise to several serious problems. The Election Commission’s model code of conduct restricts implementation and execution of government policies and development programs in poll related states which affect governance..…Expenditure incurred both by union and state governments as well as by candidates and political parties are astronomical and increasing day by day upwards. More than Rs. 50,000 crore was spent in 2019 Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Further frequent elections lead to corruption and black money.
Then the argument is that security forces are engaged for prolonged periods during election which impedes them from discharging their regular duties. Apart, there is a disruption of normal public life such as traffic jams during rallies and the problem of noise pollution. Divisive issues are highlighted and freebies promised to voters which adversely affect development and finances. Most importantly, the continuous elections cycle seriously affects governance and stable policy making.
On the other hand, the holding of simultaneous elections has the benefit.. It ensures more participation of voters and political convenience and popular demands do not take precedence over public interest. Further, narrow vote bank politics can be avoided as is the mushrooming of regional political parties, thereby promoting national perspective. The votaries of simultaneous elections say that this provides stability both at the centre and the states allowing them to take difficult and harsh decisions in public interest.
Amendment will be required in the statutory framework to achieve the above purpose of simultaneous polls. The biggest challenge, however, would be to implement the idea of` simultaneous elections for the first time. Apart from necessary amendments in the law, a procedure of one-time extension, or curtailment, as the case may be, to ensure of the various state assemblies has to be drawn up.
After the system is introduced, the next challenge would be to ensure that Parliament and state assemblies complete their full five-year tenure and any changes must be adjusted vis-a-vis the representatives already elected.
Those who are against Linking Lok Sabha election and assembly election say this not feasible for two reasons. First there will be situations in which mid-term elections are inevitable, and these would desynchronize the election cycle. Second, any mechanism devised to ensure that there is no mid-term election would go against the design of parliamentary democracy, and thus, of our constitutional structure.
The argument against linking both Lok Sabha and assembly elections runs on theses lines. Let us see how we can synchronise the elections cycle to the Lok Sabha. In that case, all assemblies that are completing their terms will have elections in 2024. The term of some assemblies (those ending before 2024) can be extended beyond usual five years, while for others (current term going past general elections) can be curtailed. This would require a constitutional amendment, which can be done, if there is a broad consensus across parties on the issue.
The problem arises after this. How does one ensure that the electoral cycles stay in sync? After all, the first elections were held in 1952, and elections were held at the same time across states for the initial 15 years. After that, as there were mid-term elections in the centre, as well as in states, the current system of frequent elections evolved. Is there a way to prevent this?
Let us take an example. Assume that there are three significant parties in a state, none of which can ideologically align with each other two. Say they get 40%, 30% and 30% of seats in assembly elections. There is no way to break the stalemate except with another round of elections. This is not a remote possibility—we have seen such situations after the Bihar elections in 2005 and Delhi election in 2013.
Take another situation. There is a no-confidence motion two years into the term of government, which the government loses. There is no group which has the numbers to get support of the majority of members in the house. How can this be resolved? Again, we have such situations in Lok Sabha in 1979 (Janata Party government and 1979 (United Front Government).
Thus, having and sustaining simultaneous elections is not a feasible option under the current situation. To make it feasible, one would have to move to a system of constructive vote of no-confidence as prevalent in some countries such as Germany. Under this system, a no-confidence motion is considered successful only if it is accompanied with a successful vote of confidence in another person. This ensures Parliament will continue till it completes its term.
However, such a system comes with a major drawback. Say, a Prime Minister loses the no-confidence motion but there is no one else who has Majority support. This is similar to the situation faced by Prime Minister I K Gujral in 1997. A constructive vote system would allow the Prime Minister to continue holding the post. However, it is quite likely that many legislative proposals will be defeated as opposition may unite to oppose the government’s plan. This could even extend to money bills, and government will not be allowed to function. We have seen such logjams in presidential systems such as US where the Congress does not approve expenditure proposals of the President.
Simultaneous, polls go against the design of parliamentary democracy and hence doesn’t appear suited to India. (IPA Service)