Q+A: Model Code of Conduct

Model Code of Conduct was recently in news when government’s move to advance the Union Budget was questioned by the opposition parties in a fear that budget proposals may influence voters in the poll bound states. Here we look at the basic facts and fundamentals of MCC:

What is Model Code of Conduct?

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India to regulate the conduct of political parties and their candidates in the run up to elections and is aimed at ensuring free and fair elections. It is essentially “voluntary” and is not backed by any law. This is the reason that sometimes it is called “Moral Code of Conduct” also. The Code was issued for the first time in 1971 before the 5th Lok Sabha elections. Since then, it has been issued before every central and state election and revised from time to time.

Despite not being backed by a law, MCC has indisputable legitimacy in India. What is the reason for the same?

Further, though the Code doesn’t have any statutory basis, it has an indisputable legitimacy and parties across the political spectrum have generally adhered to its letter and spirit. This can be explained on the basis of modus operandi of MCC. The broad objectives of the code of conduct are to ensure a level playing field for all political parties, prevent conflicts between parties, and ensure law and order in the heat of election season. However, its primary purpose is to ensure that the ruling party does not misuse or use to its advantage the government machinery for its election campaign purpose. This function of the code is the primary reason for its indisputable legitimacy across all parties. Each party follows the code in the hope that other parties, especially the ruling party, will also follow it and hence no party will gain unfair advantage in the elections. Another reason for the success of the code lies in its restrained nature that the parties find tolerable to follow.

When MCC comes into force and whom does it apply to? How does it work?

The Code of Conduct comes into force immediately after the elections are announced by the EC. It applies to political parties, their candidates and polling agents, the government in power and all government employees. It prevents the ruling party from using official machinery for electioneering work. Public places for holding election rallies and helipads for flights in connection with elections are to be made available to all parties on the same terms and conditions on which they are used by the party in power. Ministers and other government authorities should not announce any financial grants to the people; they should not lay foundation stones for or inaugurate any projects; they should not promise public facilities like roads; and they should not make any ad hoc government appointments.

Regarding the restricting guidelines on campaigning, political parties are allowed to criticize opponents for their failure to do work or fulfil promises made to the electorate, but are not allowed to criticize on the basis of any aspect of private life not connected with the public activities. Until recently, political parties were also allowed to issue election manifesto without any restrictions on its content, but the EC has now issued guidelines for election manifestos which include, among other things, mentioning the rationale of a specific promise and details of funds for implementation of the promises. Besides, the Model Code of Conduct strictly prohibits parties and candidates from making any appeals to caste or communal feelings for securing votes.

What are other powers of EC with respect to disqualification on ground of violation of MCC?

Even though the Code of Conduct does not have any statutory basis, the EC has the power to disqualify a candidate if he/she violates the code. The immaculate independence of the EC and its uncompromising attitude towards enforcing the code, combined with the perception among parties that following the code far outweighs the costs accrued if violated by other parties, especially the ruling one, have led to the success of the Model Code of Conduct since its inception.

How the -what is allowed and what is not allowed- dilemma is solved by EC with respect to MCC?

The MCC also invites controversies when elections are round the corner. The major issue in these days is to define what is allowed and what is not allowed under MCC – because a thin line separates the two. When such controversy emerges, the Election Commission or State Electoral Officer often acts as arbiter.

It is generally claimed that MCC brings development activity to halt. How far is this true?

Such claim is generally made by the governments in power because MCC blocks many of its policy decisions and implementations. It is true to some extent but not always. Further, the objective of MCC is to ensure that the party in power is not able to use public money to improve its electoral prospects. MCC does not halt the ongoing development projects but at the same time makes sure that no new projects can be announced. It also bars the ministers from combining their official visits with election campaigning.

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