WEATHERVANE OF DEMOCRACY
16, Apr 2019
Prelims level : Polity and Governance Mains level : (GS-IIA) Indian Constitution-Historical underpinnings, evolution, features, Amendments, significant provisions and basic structure
Content Area / Why in News:
- The Election Commission’s weakening commitment to the Model Code of Conduct over which the commitment of the political class to free and fair elections declined
- During the general election of 1996, which marked a turning point in the reduction of electoral malpractices, surveys showed that trust in the ECI was the highest among the major public institutions in India. Model Code of Conduct (MCC), is in effect from March 10 to May 23.
- The MCC, like the ECI itself, is a unique Indian innovation and encapsulates an important story about democracy in India and the conduct of free and fair elections.
- The MCC is a powerful instrument and It comes into force when the ECI announces election dates and comprises directions to government functionaries, political parties and candidates aimed at an impartial election process.
- Important provisions include barring governments from making policy announcements to sway voters and restraining political actors from inciting hatred against any group, or bribing or intimidating voters.
Origin of MCC
- The origins of the MCC lie in the Assembly elections of Kerala in 1960, when the State
- administration prepared a ‘Code of Conduct’ for political actors
- In the Lok Sabha elections in 1962, the ECI circulated the code to all recognised political parties and State governments.
- The emergence of the code and its voluntary acceptance by political parties showed the commitment of the political elite to the holding of free and fair elections.
- It refined the code, making it more stringent by including a section about the misuse of powers by ruling parties and renamed it the MCC. The MCC now countered the lack of commitment of the political class to free and fair elections, the ECI began to command a new respect and electoral malpractices declined dramatically.
- Voter bribery and manipulation through the media have become the techniques of unethically influencing voters in place of voter intimidation and booth capturing.
- Voter bribery is spread over time and space. Voters resent being intimidated and are likely to cooperate with authorities in preventing it, but may be willing to be bribed.
- The misuse of the media is difficult to trace to specific political parties and candidates.
- The ECI’s response to the new challenges has been inadequate. It has appointed expenditure observers, evolved a code for social media, and stopped the release of biographical pictures that could influence voters. The commitment of the political class to free and fair elections declined, and it flouted the MCC.
Election Commission of India (ECI)
- The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India.
- The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies in India, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country.
- Part XV of the Indian constitution deals with elections, and establishes a commission for these matters. The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950. Article 324 to 329 of the constitution deals with powers, function, tenure, eligibility, etc of the commission and the member.
Structure of the Commission
- The commission consists of one Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners. The secretariat of the commission is located in New Delhi. The state level election commission is helped by Chief Electoral Officer who is an IAS rank Officer. The President appoints Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
- They have a fixed tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
- They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through a process of removal similar to that of a Supreme Court judge for by Parliament.
- It grants recognition to political parties & allot election symbols to them along with settling disputes related to it. The Commission also has advisory jurisdiction in the matter of post- election disqualification of sitting members of Parliament and State Legislatures.
- It issues the Model Code of Conduct in election for political parties and candidates so that the no one indulges in unfair practice or there is no arbitrary abuse of powers by those in power. It sets limits of campaign expenditure per candidate to all the political parties, and also monitors the same.
Model Code of Conduct (MCC) / What is it?
- Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for political parties and candidates is a set of norms evolved with the consensus of political parties and enforced by the Election Commission of India.
- To help the Election commission of India to conduct free and fair elections and maintain high standards of public morality. To provide a level playing field between contestants so that ruling party doesn’t misuse its position to gain an unfair advantage by taking decisions that can help them in the elections.
- To ensure that parties and candidates show respect for their opponents, criticise their policies and programmes constructively, and not resort to mudslinging and personal attacks.
- At the time of the Lok Sabha elections, both the Union and state governments are covered under the MCC.
Restrictions for the party in power:
- The MCC forbids ministers (of state and central governments) from using official machinery for election work and from combining official visits with electioneering.
- Advertisements praising the work of the incumbent government using public money are to be avoided. The government cannot announce any financial grants, promise construction of roads or other facilities, and make any ad hoc appointments in government or public undertaking during the time the Code is in force. Ministers cannot enter any polling station or counting centre except in their capacity as a voter or a candidate.