Model Code of Conduct
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What is Model Code of Conduct?
Election Commission of India’s Model Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India for conduct of political parties and candidates during elections mainly with respect to speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, election manifestos, processions and general conduct. This is in keeping with Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives the Election Commission the power to supervise elections to the Parliament and state legislatures.
These set of norms has been evolved with the consensus of political parties who have consented to abide by the principles embodied in the said code in its letter and spirit. The philosophy behind the MCC is that parties and candidates should show respect for their opponents, criticise their policies and programmes constructively, and not resort to mudslinging and personal attacks. The MCC is intended to help the poll campaign maintain high standards of public morality and provide a level playing field for all parties and candidates.
When does it come into force?
The Model Code of Conduct comes into force immediately on announcement of the election schedule by the commission for the need of ensuring free and fair elections.
At the time of the Lok Sabha elections, both the Union and state governments are covered under the MCC.
- A form of the MCC was first introduced in the state assembly elections in Kerala in 1960. It was a set of instructions to political parties regarding election meetings, speeches, slogans, etc.
- In the 1962 general elections to the Lok Sabha, the MCC was circulated to recognised parties, and state governments sought feedback from the parties. The MCC was largely followed by all parties in the 1962 elections and continued to be followed in subsequent general elections.
- In 1979, the Election Commission added a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage at the time of elections.
- In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to include guidelines regarding election manifestos (introduced Part VIII), which it had included in the MCC for the 2014 general elections.
- Part I deals with general precepts of good behaviour expected from candidates and political parties.
- Parts II and III focus on public meetings and processions.
- Parts IV and V describe how political parties and candidates should conduct themselves on the day of polling and at the polling booths.
- Part VI is about the authority appointed by the EC to receive complaints on violations of the MCC.
- Part VII is on the party in power.
- Part VIII provide that election manifestoes shall not contain anything repugnant to the ideals and principles enshrined in the Constitution and further that it shall be consistent with the letter and spirit of other provisions of Model Code.
Key provisions of the Model Code of Conduct?
The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, party in power, and election manifestos.
General Conduct: Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work. Activities such as: (a) using caste and communal feelings to secure votes, (b) criticising candidates on the basis of unverified reports, (c) bribing or intimidation of voters, and (d) organising demonstrations or picketing outside houses of persons to protest against their opinions, are prohibited.
Meetings: Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
Processions: If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash. Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
Polling day: All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges. These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.
Polling booths: Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the Election Commission, will be allowed to enter polling booths.
Observers: The Election Commission will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
Party in power: The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power. Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same. The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections. Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc. Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses and these must not be monopolised by the party in power.
Election manifestos: Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.
Is the Model Code of Conduct legally binding?
The MCC is not enforceable by law. However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding; stating that elections must be completed within a relatively short time (close to 45 days), and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law.
On the other hand, in 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the MCC legally binding. In a report on electoral reforms, the Standing Committee observed that most provisions of the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, mentioned above. It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
But how does the EC enforce the MCC without statutory backing?
There are examples of the EC taking punitive action against violators.
For instance, during Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh in 2003, the then Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh used state government aircraft to travel from Chandigarh to Indore for an official purpose. From there he travelled to Bhopal to campaign. The EC forced him to pay the government the cost of the entire air journey from Chandigarh to Bhopal and back for having violated the provision of the MCC that forbids ministers from combining official work with electioneering.
Among the strictest of punitive actions under the MCC was taken by the EC during the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, when it banned BJP leader Amit Shah and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan from campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, and ordered criminal proceedings against both politicians for making “provocative” and “prejudicial” statements while canvassing. The ban on Shah was lifted after he apologised and promised to not violate the MCC again. Khan showed no remorse, and he remained banned from campaigning for the rest of the election season.
Is social media covered under the MCC?
The Election Commission has taken the view that the MCC will also apply to content posted by political parties and candidates on the Internet, including on social media sites. On October 25, 2013, the Commission laid down guidelines to regulate the use of social media by parties and candidates. Candidates have to provide their email address and details of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc., and add the expenditure on advertisements posted on social media to their overall expenditure for the election.
Must Read: Election Code and New Age Media
Connecting the Dots:
- What is the model code of conduct during elections? Does Election Commission have adequate powers to enforce it? Discuss.