Simultaneous Elections in India

Our Prime Minister has time and again supported the idea of holding simultaneous elections to panchayats, urban local bodies, states and Parliament so that parties and workers spending too much time and money in electioneering, can make use of the time for social work and to take people-oriented programmes to the grassroots. For the current government, this is also important because in 2014 Election Manifesto, the party had said that if came to power, it will evolve a method to hold Lok Sabha and Assembly elections simultaneously.

Historical Background

In 1951-52, the country’s first general election was held. There was a simultaneous General Election to House of People (Lok Sabha) and all State Legislative Assemblies. This continued in three subsequent General Elections held in the years- 1957, 1962 and 1967. But in 1968 and 1969, the cycle got disrupted due to the premature dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies. Similarly in the year 1970, the Lok Sabha itself got dissolved prematurely. As a result of premature dissolution and extension of the terms of Lok Sabha and state assemblies, the cycle of simultaneous elections got disturbed.

Timeline of Events

  • In 1999, the Law Commission had given its views on holding simultaneous elections in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
  • In August 2012, LK Advani floated the idea of holding simultaneous votes and claimed that he had discussed both PM Manmohan Singh and president Pranab Mukherjee regarding this and both of them were receptive to the idea.
  • In 2015, the Standing committee on law gave a report on holding simultaneous elections. It said that this would save expenditure on elections, stop policy paralysis due to imposition of model code of conduct during frequent polls.
  • In March 2016, reiterated the idea and called for discussion at all party meeting. In September, 2016, the Modi government invited public views on this issue on MyGov portal.
  • On October 4, 2017, the election commission said that it would be ready for simultaneous election after September 2018.

Arguments in Support

Following are the arguments in support of the idea of simultaneous elections.

  • Frequent elections affect the governance as the imposition of model code of conduct in the poll bound areas puts on hold all developmental activities on that area and also affects the bureaucracy’s functioning.
  • Elections in India is a big-budget exercise. Expenditure can be reduced by conducting simultaneous elections.
  • Law Commission in its 170th report {Reform of Electoral Laws (1999)} suggested holding simultaneous elections at all levels for stability in governance.
  • Frequent elections tend to disrupt the normal public life and affect the functioning of essential services. Frequent elections lead to frequent disruption of road traffic by political rallies and also lead to noise pollution.
  • It is felt that crucial manpower is often deployed on election duties for a prolonged period of time. If simultaneous elections are held, then this manpower would be made available for other important tasks. For instance for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which was held along with 4 state assemblies saw the deployment of 1077 in situ companies and 1349 mobile companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF).

Difficulties

The idea is good in principle but there are several practical difficulties as follows:

  • Not all voters are highly educated to know who to vote for. They may get confused and may not know whether they are voting for candidates contesting assembly or parliament elections.
  • Frequent elections bring the politicians back to the voters, create jobs {though temporary} and prevent the mixing of local and national issues in the minds of the voters.
  • The issue of logistics and requirement of security personnel, election and administrative officials needs to be considered. There is a dearth of enough security and administrative officials to conduct simultaneous free and fair elections throughout the country in one go.
  • Recently, the elections in West Bengal were held in 6 phases mainly due to the security concerns. If this is situation, holding simultaneous elections for all the states may need to be held in many phases stretching over many months.

Recommendations of the standing committee

The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in its report on ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People (LokSabha) and State Legislative Assemblies’ said that a solution should be found to reduce the frequency of elections to relieve people and government machinery from frequent electoral processes. It also recommended a cycle of elections, according to which elections to some legislative assemblies whose term end within six months to one year before or after the election date could be held during the midterm of Lok Sabha (November 2016). For the rest of the states, elections could be held along with the 2019 General elections to Lok Sabha.

Countries in which simultaneous elections are held

In South Africa, elections to national and provincial legislatures are held simultaneously for five years and after two years municipal elections are held. Similarly in Sweden, simultaneous elections to national legislature (Riksdag), provincial legislature/county council (landsting) and local bodies/municipal Assemblies (Kommunfullmaktige) are held on a fixed date i.e. second Sunday in September for four years.

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