Can India have simultaneous elections for both Parliament and state assemblies ?

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With the government aiming to bring the concept, ‘one nation, one election', a Law Commission internal working paper has recommended holding simultaneous election to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies in two phases beginning 2019. While the government is seeking seek the Election Commission's opinion on whether simultaneous election to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies be held in multiple phases beginning next year, the issue has now brought big debate.

Why such a proposal?

An analysis of all simultaneous elections to State Assemblies and Parliament between 1999 and 2014 have conclusive evidence that simultaneous elections do have an impact on voter behaviour. These elections comprised 513 million voter choices. In 77% of these constituencies, voters chose the same political party for both State and Centre. When elections were held even six months apart, only 61% chose the same political party.

Benefits of simultaneous elections

Money saver:
Every time an election is conducted lots of government exchequer is being spent for law and order at the election time, deployment of security forces, procurement of voter machines etc. As per government figures, around Rs 4000 crores was spent in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. So if we go for simultaneous elections we can reduce the money spent. Besides it helps to establish stability politically and economically.

Reduce party election expenses:
Political parties spend significantly on election, when two elections are simultaneously held, expenses on the elections are reduced. According to the report, around Rs 5,500 crore were spent by major political parties in the just-concluded assembly election in Uttar Pradesh alone. The Election Commission of India had allowed Rs 25 lakh per candidate for campaign expenditure, but most of the candidates spent more than that. Print and electronic material, including wide screen projections, video vans and the like put together itself in this election was put at Rs 600-900 crore. Campaign activities include a range of conventional and non-conventional activities. Around Rs 200 crore in UP and over Rs 100 crore in Punjab were confiscated.

Save time for development work
Almost all the ministers and councilors of the party spend more than 20 per cent of their campaigning for local body elections, state assembly elections and parliament elections. With the simultaneous elections, elected representatives, it will be free for at least 4 years to devote to their official duties and constituencies.

Better utilisation of security forces:
Offering security is an important part of the election, but for holding elections hundreds of central police forces in addition to state police have to be deployed. Over 60,000 security personnel from para-military and state police forces were deployed in Gujarat for the 2017 Assembly election. Around as 1.20 lakh personnel from central paramilitary forces and state police have been deployed in the UP assembly election. This deployment not only a cost huge amount of money, but also divert the primary objective of providing internal security in the country.

Improve governance of election commission
With the simultaneous elections, the election commission can focus on polls reforms. They can conduct studies and analyse the results. Such reports and studies can improve the electoral reforms, functionalities, methods and procedures in the country.

Problems of simultaneous election

Hindrance for federal structure
Major rules the country or state is the primary principle of Indian democracy. If simultaneous elections are held, the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies cannot be dissolved before completing their full period of 5 years, even the ruling party roles majority in the Lok Sabha or the state legislature. Hence the concept of simultaneous elections goes against the very foundation of the federal structure of our country.

Dominance of central parties
In the case of simultaneous polls, the top priorities of the country, which is of course, the issues of national interest will be given priority, while the state issues will be in cold storage. As a result, there is a serious local issue will be pushed back. Over a period of time, local parties and issues will lose their dominance in their fight against national parties. Besides, simultaneous polls create a platform for national parties to make greater gains in the long term. In other words, simultaneous elections can serve the goal of centralising politics.

Voter's displeasure
If the simultaneous election comes in place, the right of a voter to exercise her choice twice in a span of five years will reduce. The voter cannot hold governments accountable is much more important than just casting the vote once and has to wait another five years to express his/her opinion. Limiting the chance to express his displeasure or voice his opinions against the activities of the government will serve has an obstacle against Indian democracy. Other democratic questions

There are many other issues related the assembly polls, for example Jammu and Kashmir goes to polls for 6 years. When the constitutional amendment is undertaken, will J&K follow its own term of 6 years or will it follow the amendment. This is a serious issue, and it needs to be tackled. What happens when all the states elect their respective govt’s with full majority and if one state elects a coalition government, but if the state falls minority will all states have simultaneous assembly polls. What happens once again, if the government in the state falls elects a minority government? Such a condition results in the loss of exchequer.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that simultaneous election is a good in terms of financial section, a simultaneous election can bring dictatorial tendencies in the government as their erode their accountability to the Lok Sabha or the state assembly since they cannot be removed even after losing the confidence of the House. So, in order to improve the governance and reduce expenses, other alternatives should be explored to reduce election related expenses. Like, bring out state funded election, decriminalization of politics and even linking Aadhaar card to election identity card for transparency are the key conclusions.

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