The Per­ils of Pro­longed Polls

A three-week elec­tion sched­ule would un­ravel stalled gov­er­nance and dor­mant for­eign pol­icy

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Nripen­dra Misra

The elec­tion sched­ule for 2014 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions has raised se­ri­ous is­sues re­gard­ing the ef­fi­ciency, cost and pro­longed pe­riod of ad­min­is­tra­tive paral­y­sis. It also needs to be tested from the eq­uity point of view in terms of equal op­por­tu­nity to all the con­test­ing par­ties in a deep­en­ing frac­tious polity.

Elec­tion no­ti­fi­ca­tion from the EC be­gan on March 14, and the last no­ti­fi­ca­tion for polling was on April 17. The poll has been sched­uled in nine phases, from April 7 to May 12, with the count­ing on May 16. Thus, a to­tal of 72 days will be taken in the com­ple­tion of par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

Near-Par­a­lytic Gov­er­nance

The model code of con­duct leads both the state and cen­tral gov­ern­ments move into a slow pace of gov­er­nance. New de­ci­sions on in­vest­ment or other forms of pol­icy ini­tia­tives are not taken if such de­ci­sions are likely to im­pact elec­tion re­sults.

The bu­reau­cracy, loath to any form of risk, adopts wait-and-watch mode. The min­is­ters and other key po­lit­i­cal func­tionar­ies get busy in their con­stituen­cies with lit­tle time for dis­posal of se­ri­ous mat­ters.

The truth is that govern­ment func­tion­ing comes to a halt ex­cept min­i­mum nec­es­sary main­te­nance, though the EC keeps clar­i­fy­ing that there is no stop­page of nor­mal ac­tiv­ity. It also im­pacts for­eign pol­icy as other coun­tries wait for the next govern­ment to be in­stalled. In some re­spects, se­cu­rity also get af­fected as pro­cure­ment de­ci­sions in the de­fence min­istry do not get easy pas­sage.

Im­pli­ca­tions

Such a long du­ra­tion of elec­toral process ad­versely af­fects the cam­paigns of po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Given a live and vi­brant me­dia, it is dif­fi­cult to es­cape from the whis­per­ing cam­paign. Though exit polls are banned, elec­tion prospects get re­ported, in­di­rectly sig­nalling the party bet­ter placed to romp home. The con­fused voter fur­ther gets be­wil­dered.

The cost in­volved in con­duct­ing the elec­tion is huge. It is im­pos­si­ble for can­di­dates to stick to pre­scribed ex­pen­di­ture ceil­ing. Longer the pe­riod, greater will be the vi­o­la­tion of this ceil­ing. Truth be­comes the first ca­su­alty. It also costs the ex­che­quer heav­ily. The 1984 polling for par­lia­men­tary elec­tions was in three phases with an ex­pen­di­ture of about .` 82 crore. Since then, it has been es­ca­lat­ing and the ex­pen­di­ture on con­duct­ing the cur­rent elec­tions would cross .` 1,000-crore mark.

Sched­ul­ing and Rem­edy

The elec­tion sched­ule is de­cided in con­sul­ta­tion with the home min­istry, agencies re­spon­si­ble for law and or­der and in­ter­nal se­cu­rity, and state gov­ern­ments. The agencies re­spon­si­ble for mo­bil­is­ing po­lice forces favour pro­longed elec­tions so that the forces are able to move across the coun­try. How­ever, there is a need for a more ef­fi­cient de­ploy­ment to com­plete the re­spon­si­bil­ity in less time and, thus, re­sume nor­mal law and or­der and main­te­nance ac­tiv­ity.

The elec­tion sched­ule makes for a strong case for a shorter span of the elec­toral process. Bar­ring third, fifth and sixth phases, which ac­count for 331 par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cies, the re­main­ing con­stituen­cies could be eas­ily ac­com­mo­dated in two more phases. There is no case for first, sec­ond, fourth and ninth phases, with only six, seven, five and 41 par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cies re­spec­tively.

So, hold­ing elec­tions in about 100 con­stituen­cies in one phase is quite prac­ti­cal. It should be pos­si­ble to en­sure free and fair elec­tions in five phases in about three weeks.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of other coun­tries should guide the EC for keep­ing a min­i­mum du­ra­tion for elec­tions. South Africa, UK and US have one-day polls. Brazil and France, which have run off dates on ac­count of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, con­clude in a shorter pe­riod bar­ring cam­paign pe­riod for fi­nal re­sults than in In­dia.

Club­bing As­sem­bly Polls

There is a more se­ri­ous as­pect to the elec­toral process. The as­sem­bly and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions do not nec­es­sar­ily co­in­cide due to con­sti­tu­tional and elec­toral pro­vi­sions. So, it dis­tracts our fo­cus from growth and dev- el­op­ment to un­pro­duc­tive, ac­ri­mo­nious and ex­tra­ne­ous agenda. Dur­ing 2012-13, 11 as­sem­bly elec­tions were held in dif­fer­ent states.

In the last quar­ter of the cur­rent year, elec­tions are sched­uled in 3-4 states. Yes, coter­mi­nous elec­tions of as­sem­bly and Par­lia­ment will re­quire con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, yet, EC could club the as­sem­bly elec­tions with the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions where they be­come due ei­ther in the pre­ced­ing or fol­low­ing six months of Par­lia­ment elec­tions. This would sig­nif­i­cantly cur­tail the “ta­masha” of elec­tions and the na­tion would fo­cus more on the agenda of growth.

Democ­racy is the life­line of our na­tion. It is the foun­da­tion of our con­sti­tu­tional fab­ric. Elec­toral process is a means to es­tab­lished demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tional frame­work. With the ris­ing cost of elec­tions and ever-in­creas­ing stakes in cap­tur­ing power, the longer du­ra­tion of elec­tion process has a neg­a­tive im­pact and does not strengthen the cause of democ­racy, which it pro­fesses to pro­mote.

GEE­TAN­JALI

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