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Meaning:

Simultaneous elections should imply that elections to all the three tiers of constitutional institutions take place in a synchronized and co-ordinated fashion. What this effectively means is that a voter casts his vote for electing members for all tiers of the Government on a single day.

The third tier institutions is primarily a State subject as per the Constitution. Further, considering the facts that elections to the third tier institutions are directed and controlled by the State Election Commissions and their sheer numbers in the country is significantly large.

So the term “Simultaneous Elections” in India’s context is elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are held together. In such a scenario, a voter would normally cast his/her vote for electing members of Lok Sabha and State Assembly on a single day and at the same time.

Simultaneous elections at the Parliament and state assemblies’ level have been mooted out by many as a remedy to this problem of Indian democracy.

History:

  • The concept of simultaneous elections is in-fact not new to the India.
  • The first election after Independence was held simultaneously for the Parliament and State Assemblies in 1952. The practice was followed without any hitch in three subsequent elections held in 1957, 1962, and 1967.
  • Things after 1967 changed. Due to irresponsible and politically motivated use of article 356, many state assemblies were dissolved in between leading to finalisation of this delinking process.

Relevant Constitutional and Statutory provisions:

Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha:

  • Article 83 of the Constitution of India provides for the tenure of both Houses of the Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha).
  • Article 83(2)11 provides for a term of five years for Lok Sabha, from the date of its first sitting unless dissolved earlier.
  • Article 83 (2) of the Constitution provides that when a proclamation of emergency is in operation, the term of the House may be extended for a period not exceeding one year at a time by Parliament by law and not extending in any case beyond a period of six months after the Proclamation has ceased to operate.

State Legislation:

  • Article 172 (1) provides for five year tenure for State Legislative Assembly from the date of its first sitting.
  • Article 172 (1) deals with state legislation during emergency period.

Election Commission:

  • Article 324 mandates the Election Commission of India (ECI) to supervise, direct and control elections to Lok Sabha & State Legislative Assemblies.
  • Besides the above, to facilitate the conduct of elections by the Election Commission of India, the Parliament has enacted the Representation of People Act, 1950 and Representation of People Act, 1951 and the Rules framed there under, viz., Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 and Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.

Current system of Holding Elections:

  • Frequent electoral cycles disrupt normal public life by impacting the delivery of essential services. They also provide opportunities to unscrupulous elements to create tears in the social fabric of society.
  • In terms of governance and implementation of development programmes, enforcing the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is detrimental.
  • Frequent elections pose a huge burden on resources — both manpower and financial.
  • The cost of elections runs into thousands of crores and has been rising steadily. The opportunity cost of these lost resources is too high to ignore as India is a resource-constrained developing economy. The expenses incurred by the Government in preparation of electoral rolls, I-cards, election booths & officers etc is significant.

Rising Electoral Expenditure for the Political Parties:

  • The political parties exhausted huge crore on publicity, travel and on other expenses and many crore on expenditure towards candidates.
  • It’s a burden for the government, taxpayers, political parties and the candidates.

Lack of bold decision-making:

  • Electoral compulsions change the focus of policy making.
  • If a party which is in power at centre loses election in a state, it is projected by the opposition as the results have made severe dent on its mandate to rule. This also leads to loss of confidence in the ruling regime. A negative atmosphere is created which contributes in affecting the governance of the country in an adverse way.
  • A loss in a state election in the middle of the tenure of a government at national level is rapidly projected as a loss of credibility and hence all efforts are made by the strengthened opposition to stall any new reform measures.

Security issues:

  • Security personnel comprising paramilitary forces and state police officers across the country to protect polling stations and safeguard election.
  • Security personnel and government officials are effectively put on election duty for many months in a year. A case in point is the recurring engagement of teachers for election duty, as a result of which students suffer.
  • Elections may also lead to loss of lives at many places.
  • With the elections happening so often, these features have become a recurrent theme of our democratic process.
  • Frequent elections disrupt normal public life. Holding of political rallies disrupts road traffic and also leads to noise pollution.
  • Frequent elections perpetuate caste, religion and communal issues across the country.
  • The frequent elections are also an ever increasing administrative burden for the Election Commission of India (ECI).

Countries conducting simultaneous elections:

  • England has chosen to hold general elections and local government elections on the same day.
  • Italy, Belgium, and Sweden are some countries that conduct general and local elections together.
  • In Canada, municipal elections are on fixed dates while provincial and federal elections take place at any time.
  • In South Africa, national and provincial elections are held simultaneously.

Recommendation:

  • 170th report of Law Commission of India on ‘Reform of the Electoral Laws’.
  • First annual report of the Election Commission submitted in 1983, the then chief election commissioner R.K. Trivedi recommended simultaneous election.
  • National Commission to Review the Working of Constitution is: “Hold State level and parliamentary level elections at the same time. This would reduce election expenditure.
  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice headed by EMS Natchiappan submitted its report on the Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies.
  • The Election Commission has supported the idea of holding simultaneous elections to Parliament and State Assemblies, in a letter sent to the Law Ministry in May, 2016.
  • The Niti Aayog’s discussion paper, ‘Analysis of Simultaneous Elections: The What, Why and How’, bats for simultaneous elections stating that frequent polls change the focus of policy making because “short-sighted populist” and “politically safe” measures are accorded higher priority over difficult structural reforms.

Merits:

  • Holding simultaneous elections will ensure consistency, continuity and governance.
  • Reduces burden on security forces this make them to concentrate on their regular activities.
  • Reduces expenditure of election commission, and other key stakeholders.
  • As elections happen frequently , political parties worry about need to keep inflow of funds and contributions continued. This was consequently blamed as one of the key drivers for corruption and black-money in the country.
  • Hence, Simultaneous elections can also be a means to curb corruption and build a more conducive socio-economic ecosystem.

Demerits:

  • Our general and state elections are not held simultaneously and thereby one part or the other of our country is always electorally alert.
  • Holding simultaneous elections may influence voter behaviour in a manner that voters would end up voting on national issues even for state elections.
  • This would lead to larger national parties winning both State and Lok Sabha elections thereby marginalizing regional parties which often represent the interests of local social and economic groups
  • It is practically not feasible for the ECI to conduct elections at such a massive scale – considering logistics, security and manpower resource requirements.
  • Having to face electorate more than once every 5 year enhances the accountability of politicians and keeps them on their toes. Simultaneous election break this.
  • Periodical elections create many jobs during elections, boosting the economy at the grass-root levels.
  • The process of simultaneous elections in the country by synchronizing election cycles the first time is highly tough task.
  • As the constitutional provisions do not fix the term of either a State Assembly or the Lok Sabha, what would happen in case the ruling party or coalition loses majority in between term, either in Lok Sabha or in State assemblies.
  • Elections are easy-to-read barometers of public mood and guard ruling parties and government against complacency. Leaders utilise polls to take corrective measures. Simultaneous election doesn’t give way for it.

Barriers:

  • Various State Assemblies complete their normal term and that they are not dissolved prematurely. How would terms of Assemblies/Lok Sabha be synchronized for the first time. Would it be feasible to extend or curtail the existing terms of some State Assemblies to facilitate the above.
  • Implementing simultaneous polls would require a substantial shift from the status quo and would involve amendments to the Constitution and election-related laws.
  • Sharing of cost incurred for simultaneous election. Till now the entire expenditure on conduct of elections to Lok Sabha is borne by Government of India and on State Legislatures by the respective. But if simultaneous election conducted how the state and centre shares the expenditure.

Conclusion:

  • India, being a developing country, cannot ill afford to bear the huge expenditure involved in electoral exercise. From the above discussion it is evident that the issues that we are facing now in terms of spiralling costs of elections, administrative burden on government and Election Commission and governance deficit resulting from these can be better resolved if we revert back to our earlier electoral system whereby we had simultaneous elections for both parliament and state assemblies.
  • Holding simultaneous elections is not merely about elections; it is about stable governance.
  • If the purpose of amendments is to strengthen democracy and governance, they should be brought in.
  • Simultaneous elections can bring the much-needed operational efficiency in this exercise.
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