Simultaneous Elections – Is it a good idea?

Recently the ruling party has launched a series of awareness campaigns to develop a consensus on the issue of holding simultaneous elections in the country. Moreover, organizing simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and state assemblies is an ambitious task envisioned by the Election Commission. But the Chief Election Commissioner opined that it cannot be implemented anytime soon.

What is a simultaneous election (SE)?

  • Simultaneous election refers to holding elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies together once in a 5 year under which voters in a certain constituency vote for both Lok Sabha and State Assembly on the same day itself.
  • It does not mean that elections across the nation for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies need to occur on a single day.
  • It is based on the principle of “One Nation, One Election”.
  • Notably, simultaneous elections were held in India until 1967 that was disrupted because of premature dissolution of state assemblies.
  • Elections to the local governments such as panchayats and municipalities cannot be included in SE because of their huge numbers and they come under the state list.

What are the arguments in favour? (or Need for SE)

Governance

  • Frequent elections make winning the elections the first priority for the government.
  • But SE allows the government to spend their 5 years term for providing governance instead of just thinking about winning elections.

Legislative efficiency

  • Frequent elections make every party in the legislative assembly or parliament to have a spotlight which results in a logjam and affect legislative efficiency.

Economy

  • Frequent elections cause a huge economic burden.
  • Because it will result in the imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by Election Commission over a long period of time that often leads to policy paralysis and governance deficit as new welfare measures, infrastructure projects etc. cannot be announced when MCC is in force.

Expenditure

  • Frequent elections result in a huge expenditure by different stakeholders such as political parties, individual candidates etc.
  • The urge to spend more to win elections is blamed as one of the key drivers for corruption and black money in the country.
  • Frequent elections also need a huge management or administrative cost on the part of the government.

Education

  • Since a huge number of teachers are involved in the electoral process, SE causes maximum harm to the education sector.

International practice

  • British Parliament, which is considered to be the ‘mother of parliaments’, enacted ‘Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011’ by which elections have been fixed for every 5 years.
  • Simultaneous elections are also held successfully in South Africa and Sweden.

What are the arguments against?  (Or Challenges)

On History factor

  • Simultaneous elections are not mandated by the constitution. In the initial two decades after independence, SE was held due to the historical coincidence and political stability at that time.

On the cost factor

  • The current election expenditure of India is only about 0.05% of the total annual expenditure and it is not a huge price to pay for the world’s largest and most vibrant electoral democracy.

On the Model Code of conduct (MCC)

  • If Model Code of Conduct is an obstacle to the government from taking welfare measures or starting infrastructure projects. Then the solution is to reform the code rather than the electoral cycle itself.

On governance issue

  • With no elections in the intermittent period, some of the elected representatives may not show much interest in delivering governance.
  • So frequent elections act as checks and balances on the functioning of elected representatives.

Constitutional challenges

  • The PM or CM can advise the president or the governor, to prematurely dissolve the Lok Sabha or state assembly. But according to Article 85 and Article 174, elections to Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies have to be held within 6 months of dissolving either of them.
  • If the government loses its majority due to no-confidence motion, then elections become unavoidable.
  • Thus constitutional amendment is needed for extending or curtailing terms.

Federalism

  • Simultaneous elections are against the federal principles whereby each state has devised its own format of the political competition.
  • Thus SE affects the political autonomy of states.

Diversity

  • Also, SE will move the local issues or issues of state importance to the background. This completely ignores the country’s diversity.

Resource intensive

  • The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) recently ruled out the possibility of holding simultaneous elections because of intense resource need.
  • SE would need a high number of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit (VVPAT) units.
  • Furthermore, ensuring the availability of VVPATs in every state poses a logistical challenge too.

What are the solutions?

  • In the German system, when the opposition party leader moves both the no-confidence and a confidence motion, she would become the new leader if both the motions are passed. In this way, premature dissolution could be avoided.
  • A phase wise synchronization of tenures of Lok Sabha and Assemblies may be followed rather than a one-shot system.
  • Simultaneous elections should be undertaken in those state assemblies which are completing their tenure together rather than forcing SE by law.
  • Any changes should require both constitutional amendment and approval of judiciary that such changes don’t violate the “basic structure” of the constitution.
  • To reduce election-related expenses (major obstacle for SE), other alternatives can be explored such as state funding of elections, decriminalization of politics, transparency in political funding, and creating National Electoral Fund to which all donors can contribute.
  • A focused group of constitutional experts think tanks, government officials and representatives of political parties should be set up to come up with a plan to address the implementation challenges.

Practice Question

Critically analyse the feasibility of conducting simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and Assembly.