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ECI reform plan: For a level playing field

  • IASbaba
  • March 13, 2020
  • 0
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Polity

Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies. 

ECI reform plan: For a level playing field

Even as electoral democracy has taken strong root in India, there are some unhealthy patterns that have emerged some of which are:

  • Candidates and winners in Assembly and Lok Sabha polls have largely been from affluent sections 
  • With elections becoming expensive, most parties have sought to field richer candidates irrespective of their merit in representing public interest.
  • Campaign finance regulations by the Election Commission of India that imposes limits on election expenditure by candidates have not been sufficient deterrents. 
  • Poll results have tended to be a function of either party or leader preference by the voter rather than a statement on the capability of the candidate.
  • In many cases, capable candidates stand no chance against the money power of more affluent candidates. 
  • Increasing number of candidates contesting in elections having criminal cases against them

As a result, ECI is considering certain reforms which is pending with the centre, some of these are:

  1. ECI is considering tightening ways to cap the expenditure of political parties. 
    • But even this can be meaningful only if there is more transparency in campaign finance which suggests that the electoral bonds system, as it is in place now, is untenable.
  2. The ECI has suggested bringing social media and print media under the “silent period” ambit after campaigning ends. 
    • Regulating social media will be difficult and it remains to be seen how the ECI will implement this.
  3. The ECI also plans to introduce new “safe and secure” voting methods. 
    • The use now of the EVM as a standalone, one-time programmable chip-based system, along with administrative safeguards renders it a safe mechanism that is not vulnerable to hacking. 
    • Any other “online” form of voting that is based on networked systems should be avoided
  4. Aadhaar-Voter ID linkage to weed out duplications and misrepresentations from the electoral rolls
    • The idea of an Aadhaar-linked remote voting system that is sought to be built as a prototype could be problematic considering how the unique identity card has excluded genuine beneficiaries when used in welfare schemes
  5. Amendments to Section 20(6) of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951 to allow the husband of a female officer to be registered as a service voter where she holds office.
  6. Granting powers to ECI to deregister a party
  7. Greater autonomy to ECI
    • Giving Constitutional protection to all members of ECI
    • Charging budget of ECI to Consolidated Fund of India
    • Setting up Independent Secretariat for ECI like those for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha

Two key measures are missing from the recommendations — the need for more teeth for the ECI in its fight against “vote buying” and hate speech. 

  • Increasingly, parties have resorted to bribing voters in the form of money and other commodities in return for votes, and while the ECI has tried to warn outfits or in some cases postponed polls, these have not deterred them.
  • In times when hate speech is used during elections, the ECI lacks power of disqualification of the candidate that would create true deterrence

Conclusion

ECI’s plans to strengthen the electoral process are welcome, but some require scrutiny

Connecting the dots

  • Liberhan Commission recommendations against parties which misuse religion.

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