Simultaneous Elections Is A Good Idea But More Urgent Electoral Reforms Required Before One Nation One Poll

Prime Minister Modi called for an all-party meeting to discuss one nation one poll on 18th June, 2019. Out of 40 parties invited, only 21 attended. The principal opposition party Congress boycotted the meeting. After the meeting it was finalized that a committee will be formed to look into all its aspects and present a report in a time bound manner. Simultaneous elections also featured prominently in President’s joint address to Parliament signaling this is one of the priority legislations of Modi 2.O.

All the 29 states and 2 union territories which have Chief Ministers will go to polls in the next five years. This results in India being in election mode throughout the 5-year term of any Lok Sabha. Since Modi is the star campaigner of the party, he is expected to seek votes for BJP in all these state elections. For example, Modi held 34 rallies in Gujarat in 2017, 21 in Karnataka, 10 in Madhya Pradesh and 3 in Telangana in 2018. All this sucks a lot of precious time a Prime Minister’s Office.

Not only he but many cabinet ministers also have to campaign. For example, Heath Minister J.P. Nadda was stationed in UP for 4 months ahead of Lok Sabha elections 2019, as he was the state in-charge for BJP. 50 ministers were sent to Gujarat to propagate work done by BJP government at the centre. All this, impacts the functioning of the government. Simultaneous elections will save Rs. 4,800 crores of government exchequer as per NitiAyog report.

While this is not such a big amount, (less than 1% of government’s budgeted expenditure), what appeals to me most is that, it will significantly enhance our governance infrastructure. Prime Minister, Chief Ministers of states, central government ministers, bureaucrats etc. all will save precious time. Despite the advantages, simultaneous polls is not the most burning issue in the country at the moment. Nor it is the most significant electoral reform pending, many basic issues need to be sorted out first.

  1. Change in definition of national / state party

Currently there are 8 national parties in India – BJP, INC, NCP, TMC, BSP, CPM, CPI and NPP. TMC, NCP and CPM have no significant presence outside their home states of West Bengal, Maharashtra and Kerala. Truly speaking apart from BJP and Congress no other party qualifies to be a national party. Parties which secure minimum 5% vote share in national / state elections should be declared as national / state party.

  1. State funding of elections – AamAadmi can’t fight

Currently the expenditure limit for MLA elections is Rs. 28 lakhs and MP election is Rs. 70 lakhs. Additionally, party can spend umpteen amount on star campaigners. As per CMS, Rs. 60,000 crores were spent on Lok Sabha elections 2019, implying more than 100 crores spent in one constituency. How can an aamaadmi who doesn’t get ticket from established parties contest the elections? It has become a game for the rich and well-off. This will reduce use of black money in elections and bring in a transparent funding mechanism.

  1. Fixed tenure of MLA / MP

An MLA or MP should have a fixed tenor of 5 years. He / she should not be allowed to resign in between the term or change his / her party. In case of resignation, the runner up should be given a chance to represent the constituency. This is necessary to prevent jumping from one party to another and then standing on different party ticket in by-elections.

Many MLAs contest as candidates for Lok Sabha elections and if they go on to win, elections are forced upon us and the taxpayer has to bear the expenses of repoll. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, by-polls to 12 seats are likely to be held this year due to this reason. An MLA / MLC / Rajya Sabha MP who wishes to contest for Lok Sabha should first resign from current seat before filing nominations.

  1. Fixed tenure of assembly / Parliament

For simultaneous polls idea to be successful, the state assemblies and Parliament should have a fixed tenure. Otherwise, the chain of one nation one poll can be broken if a state assembly or Lok Sabha is dissolved in between. Two things can derail this process.

  • What happens in case of a hung house, if none of the parties are able to form a government? – A government then should be formed with CM / PM of SLP (single largest party) and cabinet berths allotted in the proportion of seats won by various parties.
  • What happens if an elected government loses majority in the house? – Any no-confidence motion should be accompanied with an alternative government formation arrangement with signatures of MPs / MLAs in advance.
  1. Change in NOTA rules

Currently, NOTA is just a tool for registering protest. Even if NOTA gets the highest number of votes, the runner up candidate is declared as winner. However, such a situation has not occurred till date. If NOTA gets the highest number of votes, re-elections should take place. Candidates and parties who secure less votes than NOTA shouldn’t be allowed to contest the next elections. Both BJP and INC recorded lesser vote share than NOTA in Andhra assembly polls held recently.

  1. Provision of e-voting

Despite efforts of Election Commission and awareness campaigns the turnout in India for Lok Sabha elections was below 70%. Many people who have migrated to other cities for work hold voter ids in their birthplace and are not able to vote. Election Commission should have an option of Aadhar enabled e-voting which is likely to give a boost to overall turnout especially in metros and cities. With everything moving to internet, people should be allowed online voting. This will also save time and costs.

  1. Contest from 2 seats feature should be stopped

People should not be allowed to contest from 2 seats. They in the end retain only one and this leads to re-elections and additional cost. If this is to be allowed, the party which vacates the seat should not be allowed to stand in by-elections or should bear the expenses of re-election. Alternatively, candidate who was second should be declared winner.

  1. Right to recall

Voters should have a right to recall. Should it be exercised every year? It is perhaps not practical. I suggest it should be done after 2.5 years of MP / MLA tenure. Do we carry out a full-fledged voting (cost angle) or a survey or an opinion poll sort of thing can be worked out. It will act as a deterrence for non-performing MPs.

While one nation one poll is a good idea, there are more urgent electoral reforms required before we take up this contentious.

Image courtesy:  oneindia

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