By Sheetal Bhopal
Edited by Sanchita Malhotra, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Elections may not in themselves be a sufficient condition for political representation, but there is little doubt that they are a necessary condition. Elections are at the heart of any democracy. Joseph Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) rightly put it, ‘democracy means only that the people have the opportunity of accepting or refusing the men who are to rule them.’
But the relevant question remains whether the people who choose their representatives lose the right over them once elected to the seat of power? Is the electoral system all about the electorate? What about the independence of the Election Commission which conducts, supervises and regulates elections to the world’s largest democracy? What about the inner functioning of political parties?
There are several areas where the people at large, civil society, NGOs, social activists are feeling concerned. Broadly, there are three sets of reforms proposed:
- Ones which will reinforce the independence of the Election Commission
The Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners are appointed by the President on the advice of the Cabinet. The selection process can in itself be biased. The appointment of the EC should be based on wider consultation with the Electoral College. The outgoing CEC can be made as one of the members of the Collegium for the appointment of a new Commissioner. The elevation to the position of CEC can be made on the basis of seniority. While CEC cannot be removed except through impeachment, it is necessary to provide similar protection to the other ECs as well.
- Those which will help to cleanse politics
Criminalization of politics stands as a major challenge as far as cleansing of politics is concerned. The EC sent a proposal to the government in 1998 for debarring a person facing charges for serious offences from contesting elections. The political parties then opposed the move. However, EC had offered three safeguards: Only heinous offences will lead to the bar and not all criminal cases, the case should have been registered at least six months before the elections and the court should have framed the charges.
- The ones which will make the working of the political parties more transparent.
There are a number of ways to enhance the transparency of political parties. One of the statutory requirements for a valid application for registration as a political party under Section 29A is that the constitution of the Party should contain an undertaking of allegiance to the Constitution of India and the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy and to uphold the unity, sovereignty and integrity of India. But there are no legal provisions enabling the Commission to take punitive action against them or to withdraw the registration in case of violation of such understanding. The Commission had recommended an amendment to the law, empowering the Commission to regulate the de-registration of political parties.
To bring transparency, the Commission has proposed that the accounts of political parties should be audited by the Chartered Accountants from a list specified by the Election Commission. Furthermore, these audited accounts should be put in public domain.
There have been proposals of late from social activists, seeking the right to the electors to reject all the candidates when they find none of them worthy through the provision of NOTA. In 2013, SC granted this provision but not the right to reject.
Right to recall is another electoral reform demanded by activists like Anna Hazare. Right to Recall is a mechanism for voters to unseat an elected MP or MLA by following the recall process.
Misuse of religion for electoral gain should be prohibited and punishment for electoral offences should also be enhanced.
While some areas demand reform, the fact just can’t be ignored that election law has managed to keep pace with the changing times, then that may be in the form of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) or the elector’s photo identity card (EPIC). The need is now to implement the above stated set of reforms to make the electoral system more citizen-centric.
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Sheetal is a Political Science(H ) student in her third year of graduation. An avid reader and photographer, she aims to join active politics. She has been organising events at her college level through discussion forums like The Symposium Society, known in the University for its Mock Indian Parliament simulations. She is also actively engaged in the National Service Scheme (NSS) of her college where she reads out to blind students. “Elevation of humanity through the smallest efforts” is what guides her day to day actions.