Election Day refers to the day when elections are held. In 48 countries, elections are always held on Sunday to enable maximum voters to participate. For example; elections are held on Sunday in Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela.
In South Africa, elections to the National and Provincial Legislatures are held simultaneously for 05 years and Municipal Elections are held 02 years later on a fixed date. In Sweden, elections to National and Provincial Legislature and Local Bodies/Municipal Assemblies are held on a fixed date i.e. second Sunday in September for 04 years. For example, the election was held on 14.9.2014, then on 9.9.2018 and the forthcoming election is scheduled on 11.9.2020.
In India, the need for simultaneous election to the Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, Panchayats and Municipal Bodies have been discussed and debated for a long time. As elections have become a big budget affair and expensive, the Law Commission of India in its 170th Report on Reform of Electoral Laws (1999) has suggested simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for the sake of stability in governance.
Our Constitution describes India as a ‘Union of States’ and gives the State’s control over their own governments, which are directly elected. Apart from stipulating that elections have to be held every five years for both Parliament and State Assemblies, the Constitution of India is silent over whether this should happen simultaneously. The Supreme Court of India in a catena of decisions has held that wherever enacted laws are silent or make insufficient provision for the conduct of free and fair elections, the Election Commission of India has residuary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to act in an appropriate manner.
There are many advantages in holding the Loksabha, State Legislative Assemblies, Panchayats and Municipal Body elections together. It would reduce the time and cost involved in conducting elections in terms of the use of paramilitary forces, government staff on election duty and election commission staff organizing booths, electronic voting machines and voter slips etc. In addition, the cost of campaigning for parties would be less. The imposition of the Model Code delays the implementation of Central and State government projects and welfare schemes and takes away time and effort from governance issues.
The thinking in the public is that unending State elections impede governance as the Model Code of Conduct prevents announcements of policy decisions that could be seen to influence voters. It is also felt that the political exercise is hugely distracting and there is a tendency to read the results as referendums on the Centre even though the issues at State are essentially local and state specific. Every year, generally, 3-4 states go to polls.
Apart from the fact that valuable money and huge manpower will be saved if the elections are held together, the bigger benefit will be the reduction in what is the best called electoral paralysis, or the lack of decision-making by the Centre and State government because some State Assembly and Local Body Election is due every year. This becomes even more problematic where the Prime Minister and Chief Minister is the main campaigner for the party in elections as well and the hectic campaign schedule distracts from running the government. Once all the elections are held together and the mammoth election process is over, the government will get a clear 58 months to carry out important reforms and since this is a large enough window for their results to be visible, it will make life easier for the political class.
In 1983, the Election Commission of India said: “a stage has come for evolving a system under which elections to the House of the People and Legislative Assemblies are held simultaneously”. The Law Commission, headed by Justice Jeevan Reddy, in its 170th Report (1999) has said that “we must go back to the situation where the elections to Lok Sabha and all the Legislative Assemblies are held at once”.
In 2015, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in its report on the ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People and State Legislative Assemblies’ recommended: “an alternative and practicable method of holding simultaneous elections which involves holding of elections in two phases” – at the middle of the term of current Lok Sabha-in November 2016, for some Assemblies, and at the end-in June 2019, for the rest. “Election to all state Assemblies whose terms end prior to or after a time period of six months to one year from the appointed election date can be clubbed together”.
Simultaneous elections were held in 1951-52, 1957, 1962 and 1967. Premature dissolution of Assemblies resulted in the cycle getting disrupted and in 1970, Lok Sabha itself was dissolved early. The Standing Committee noted that relief from frequent elections is important for India if it is to compete with other nations in development agenda”. According to the House panel, the cost of holding elections for Lok Sabha and Assemblies has been pegged at Rs 4,500 crore by the Election Commission. However, the money spent is several times more. The Centre for Media Studies has estimated that an undeclared Rs 30000 crore was spent on the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Doing away with the several separate elections every year is likely to reduce expenditure substantially.
Since 1977, the expenditure has been on an upward climb. It doubled to more than Rs 23 crore (compared to 11.5 crore in 1971). In 1980, it more than doubled-to Rs 54 crore. By 1989, it went up by three times to Rs 154 crore. Just two years later, expenses shot up to Rs 359 crore. In 1996, it had reached the Rs 600 crore mark. And three years later, in 1999, Election Commission spent Rs 880 crore. By 2004, it had shot up to Rs 1300 crore. The provisional estimate tells us that the conduct of 2014 Lok Sabha elections entailed an expenditure of almost Rs 4500 crore.
Expenses on state assembly elections are also rising. Election to Bihar assembly cost the State government Rs 300 crore in addition to expenses incurred by the central government and election commission. It’s very unfortunate that taxpayer’s money is being spent mindlessly. With some application of mind and resolute will, this wasteful expenditure could be minimized.
Elections are the mainstay of democracy that’s why we cannot avoid it. However, we can avoid duplication of elections by holding LokSabha, State assembly, Panchayat and Municipal body elections together on a fixed day. The Election Commission has already expressed its ability and willingness to conduct the simultaneous elections.
The Parliament Standing Committee has noted that holding of simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies would reduce: (i) the massive expenditure that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections; (ii) the policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time; (iii) impact on delivery of essential services; (iv) burden on the crucial manpower that is deployed during election time.”
The Standing Committee recommended that elections could be held in two phases. The Committee suggested that elections to some Legislative Assemblies could be held during the mid-term of Lok Sabha i.e. in November 2016, and election to the remaining Legislative assemblies could be held in 2019 with the General Election. Committee suggests that Elections to all the State assemblies, whose terms end within six months to one year before or after the appointed election date can be clubbed together. Thus, the second phase of state assembly elections can be held in 2019 with the General elections.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee has mentioned the broad reasons for exploring simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies as follows:
Simultaneous elections would reduce the massive expenditure incurred to conduct the separate elections every year. Presently, the cost of holding elections for Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies and Union Territories has been pegged at Rs.4500 crore by the ECI.
Elections lead to imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) in the poll bound State/area. The imposition of MCC puts on hold the entire development program and activities of the Union and State Governments affecting the normal governance. Separate elections lead to imposition of MCC over prolonged periods of time leading to policy paralysis and governance deficit.
Frequent elections lead to disruption of normal public life and impact the functioning of essential services. Holding of political rallies disrupts road traffic and also leads to noise pollution. If simultaneous elections are held, this period of disruption would be limited to a certain predetermined period of time.
Simultaneous elections would free the crucial manpower which is often deployed for prolonged periods on election duties. For example, the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was spread over nine phases and 1077 in situated companies and 1349 mobile companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) were deployed.
The Election Commission on its part has suggested the following to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the conduct of simultaneous elections:
The term of the Lok Sabha would normally commence and expire on a particular date.
The period for general election to constitute the new House has to be determined in such a way that Lok Sabha could commence its term on the predetermined date.
In order to avoid premature dissolution, it is suggested that any ‘no-confidence motion’ moved against the government in office should also include a further ‘confidence motion’ in favour of a government to be headed by a named individual as the future Prime Minister and voting should take place for the two motions together.
ECI has suggested that if dissolution of Lok Sabha can’t be avoided, then following options can be considered:
If the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha is not long, there could be a provision for the President to carry out the administration of the country, on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers to be appointed by him till, the time the next House is constituted at the prescribed time.
If the remainder of the term is long, then fresh election may be held and the term of the House in such case should be for the rest of what would have been the original term.
In the case of the Legislative Assembly also, in the event of ‘no-confidence motion’, it should be mandatory to simultaneously move a ‘confidence motion’ for formation of an alternative government.
If, following a general election, none of the parties is able to form government and another election becomes necessary, the term of the House in such case after the fresh election should be only for the remainder of what would have been the original term. If the government has to resign for some reason and an alternative is not possible, then provision can be considered for a fresh election if the remainder of the term is a comparatively longer period.
Two windows of one-and-a-half months each may be fixed for holding the bye-elections that become due in a particular year.
If it is considered that the above proposals for having uniform and synchronized terms for Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies are not feasible, an alternative proposal would be to consider provisions to have all elections, falling due in a year together in a particular period of the year.
The Parliament Standing Committee made the following recommendations after going through the various suggestions that were put forward:
Tenure of State Assemblies needs to be curtailed or extended in the future for holding simultaneous elections. Extension of term of Legislature is not permissible except under proclamation of emergency. But elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies can be held six months before. Election of the Legislative Assemblies where term is ending six months after the General election to Lok Sabha can be clubbed with it but election results can be declared at the end of their tenure.
Committee recommends an alternative and practicable method of holding simultaneous elections which involves holding elections in two phases. Elections to some Legislative Assemblies may be held at midterm of Lok Sabha and remaining at the end of tenure of Lok Sabha.
Elections to all State Assemblies whose terms end prior to or after a time period of six months to one year from the appointed election date can be clubbed together. The terms of some State Legislative Assemblies may need to be extended while some of them may need to be curtailed. Under Sections 14 and 15 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, Election Commission can notify the elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies six months prior to the end of their natural terms, respectively. This provision may be used to hold elections without extension of terms of some assemblies and the simultaneous elections can be held in 2019 along with the General Elections to Lok Sabha.
Bye-elections to all seats falling vacant in a particular year could be conducted together on a fixed date. Gaining consensus of all political parties may be difficult in certain States of the Country. However, in the larger context of economic development & implementation of election promises without creation of the impediments due to enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct, the prospects of holding simultaneous elections need to be weighed and deeply considered by all political parties. The committee feels that the report would open up debate on this important issue and to try and establish national consensus to avoid frequent elections.
Ashwini Upadhyay is an Advocate at Supreme Court of India.
The thinking in the public is that unending state elections impede governance as the Model Code of Conduct prevents announcements of policy decisions that could be seen to influence voters. It is also felt that the political exercise is hugely distracting and there is a tendency to read the results as referendums on the Centre even though the issues at state are essentially local and state-specific. Every year, generally, 3-4 states go to polls.