One Nation One Poll: A Complicated but not a Far Fetched Proposition

By: Aditya Sethi


Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter

– Martin Luther King Jr.

‘Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable’   

– William Pollard

INTRODUCTION

NITI Aayog, the premier policy-making establishment in India, is contemplating simultaneous elections at the National and State level as a possible remedy for the multifarious inadequacies of the current electioneering process that is tedious and engages resources of the nation for a prolonged period. Due to the sheer size of the electorate, elections in India have become an expensive affair and a breeding ground for corrupt activities. The expenditure incurred by the candidates far exceeds the limits prescribed by the Election Commission of India.

In the past, simultaneous elections were successfully conducted in India from 1951 to 1967. This method of the electoral process was dismantled on account of rise in the coalition government and multiparty democracy, and on considerations of decentralization of accountability and excessive authority granted to the Centre.

In the current context, the need for having simultaneous elections was proposed by the Law Commission in its 170th Report and the Parliamentary Standing Committee in its 79th Report in order to bring stability and consistency in governance. This proposition entails significant advantages such as reduction of enormous expenses involved in separate elections, focused campaigns enabling voters to arrive at a far more informed political and electoral choice[1], reduced imposition of Model Code of Conduct over prolonged periods of time which often lead to policy paralysis and governance deficit, and the deployment of the Central Armed Police Forces for protracted periods owing to staggered elections. The adoption of simultaneous elections would require amending various provisions of the Constitution. Through this article, the author seeks to analyse the issues and challenges concerning simultaneous elections and propose solutions for its effective implementation.

ISSUES AND CHALLENGES ENVISIONED IN SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS

Impact on Doctrine of Basic Structure of the Constitution

The constitutionality of simultaneous elections has been called into question for potential infringement of the basic structure doctrine. The sustainability of simultaneous elections must be gauged in light of the constitutional provisions through the rights test’ and ‘impact test’.  The ‘rights test’ implies the protection of vital constitutional provisions that are key to its existence; that the absence or negation of such provisions would itself lead to the destruction of the constitutional order. The ‘impact test’ requires the Court to make a balanced assessment as to the sphere of the abridgement of legal rights including fundamental rights to determine whether the constitutional amendment in question substantially and effectively contravenes the core tenets of the Constitution. The impact of simultaneous elections on basic features such as federalism, rule of law and parliamentary form of government has been analysed threadbare.

  1. Federalism. From the standpoint of the ‘impact test’, simultaneous elections were envisaged as the norm under the constitutional framework with staggered elections being provided only as the exception to the rules. The introduction of simultaneous elections would involve amending Articles 83, 85, 172, 174 and 356 of the Constitution of India. It is argued that while the provisions relating to the duration of the Parliament and State Legislatures are important in light of stable governance, they are not so intrinsic to the Constitution as they fail to stand the applicable ‘rights test’.
  2. Rule of Law. The argument that simultaneous elections would allow the Parliament to prematurely dissolve and extend the tenures of certain State Assemblies is purported to be prejudicial to the interests of parties not in power in the majority of the states. However, the proposed Amendment to the Constitution would be passed in compliance with the procedure laid down in Article 368 with the intent of synchronizing the timing of elections for both the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. This would help establish a framework that could continue in the future, irrespective of any political party being in power in the majority of the states.
  3. Parliamentary Form of Government. In a situation of hung Parliament or State Assemblies, the power to appoint ministers would shift to the President and the leader of the single largest party would be appointed as the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister respectively. The principle of representative democracy will not stand violated as the President would be appointing ministers from amongst those who have been rightfully elected to the House by the will of the people.

Vote of Constructive No-Confidence  

The concept of a constructive vote of no-confidence, emanated from West Germany, has found its application in various jurisdictions including but not limited to Spain, Hungary, Israel, Slovenia and Lesotho. Constructive censure, as enshrined under Article 67 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, provides that a Chancellor can only be ousted from office if a prospective Chancellor has a positive majority as determined by a secret ballot.[2] This ensures that the Government is never without a Chancellor, which is imperative in a multiparty system.[3]

In Britain, after the enforcement of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, it is necessary for the House of Commons to vest confidence in a new government to replace the incumbent government while a motion of no-confidence is introduced against the existing government. On failure to do so, the country may fall into early elections. The motion for no-confidence in the Lok Sabha Rules 2014, provides for a 30-day period for the preparation of the vote under Rule 198, which can be used for the search of an alternative working or coalition government especially in a multi-party democracy such as India.

The 170th Report of the Law Commission has also suggested that a new Rule 198A should be added to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha to introduce a motion of confidence in the alternative government. This would mean that the incumbent government could continue to remain in power in an event where there exists no possibility for the formation of an alternative government.

Anti-Defection: Impediment to Simultaneous Elections

The Tenth Schedule is considered to be an inhibition in the formation of an alternative government as it seeks to disqualify membership of any Member of Parliament (MPs) or Member of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) who acts against the party whip.

To facilitate implementation of simultaneous elections, an exception in law shall be considered for the purpose of allowing MPs to defy the party whip in exceptional circumstances of the no-confidence motion, to pass a confidence motion in favour of an alternative government formed by factions of different political parties which together command a majority in the legislature. A Member intending to vote for any political party against the direction of the Whip of their original political party to avoid premature dissolution of the House/State Assembly shall not be disqualified on the grounds set forth in any of the provisions of this Schedule.

The Anti-Defection law was introduced in order to bring about greater party cohesion on the floor of the Parliament. Paragraph 2(1)(b) has significantly failed to prevent the mischief of corruption in voting because defection is not a suitable check for the same. Appropriate penal measures should be utilized to eliminate the problem of corruption in Parliament.

Increased Likelihood of Imposition of President’s Rule

President’s Rule would be invoked as a measure of last resort to ensure that the cycle of elections takes place as scheduled.  It is to this effect that relaxation in the Anti-Defection Law is being proposed to facilitate the implementation of vote of constructive no-confidence.

Voter Bias and Detriment to the Interests of Regional Parties

Empirical evidence suggests the tendency of voters to cast their votes for the same political party in both central and state elections. Rather, state elections in India are considered as the prominent tier of governance in regard to the electoral choice.[4] National electoral outcomes are principally derived from electoral contests at the state level. Therefore, it is not a relevant consideration to suggest that the interests of the regional parties would be affected by holding simultaneous elections as against holding non-concurrent elections.

Effect on Job Creation

It is argued that sustained jobs at the grassroots levels would be reduced in case of simultaneous elections. Jobs created during staggered elections are temporary in nature and hence cannot be regarded as a compelling reason to oppose the proposition of simultaneous elections. Alternatively, the money that is saved through staggered elections can be utilized in creating jobs in other forms.

SUGGESTED MODEL FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS

Though desirable, single phase pan – India simultaneous elections will have teething problems.  It is, therefore, a concerted viewpoint that simultaneous elections must be conducted in two phases – where certain state assemblies are put to elections with the Lok Sabha in the first phase, while the remaining states have elections at the midterm of the Lok Sabha. The NITI Aayog has further suggested that elections should be held every two and a half years to synchronize the initial electoral cycle of the Parliament and State Assemblies. This proposal will have to be evaluated in terms of cost-benefit analysis and the number of elections that would take place within a span of two and a half years.

CONCLUSION

The proposal of simultaneous elections is a progressive step owing to the multiple advantages it entails, but it is important that this method is adopted within the established contours of the constitutional framework with absolute regard and respect to the basic structure doctrine. It is imperative that political parties rise above their political considerations and extend their support to the Law Commission along with the Election Commission of India in ensuring that the modalities of this proposition are evolved for its effective and operational implementation.

[1] Arjan H Schakel and Régis Dandoy, ‘Electoral Cycles and Turnout in Multilevel Electoral Systems’ (2014) 37 West European Politics 605.

[2] Reuven Y Hazan, ‘Presidential Parliamentarism: Direct Popular Election of the Prime Minister, Israel’s New Electoral and Political System’ (1996) 15 Electoral Studies 21.

[3] Sabine Michalowski and Lorna Woods, German Constitutional Law: The Protection of Civil Liberties (Dartmouth Pub Co 1999).

[4] Pradeep Chhibber and Ken Kollman, The Formation Of National Party System: Federalism And Party Competition In Canada, Great Britain, India And United States (Princeton University Press 2004).


(Aditya is currently a 4th-year law student at School of Law, Christ. He is interested in international dispute settlement, constitutional and administrative law.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s