Note: The topic is important from TISSNET point-of-view.
Since elections in four states and one Union territory in March-April are likely to have initiated the second stage of the Covid pandemic, a thorough discussion on a concept as important as “one nation, one election” is needed.
The idea should be pondered primarily around five issues: the financial costs of holding elections; the expenses of repeated administrative freezes; the known and unknown costs of constantly deploying security forces; political party campaign and financial services costs; and the problem of regional/smaller parties having a level playing field.
Background on Simultaneous Elections
- The notion has been around since at least 1983, when it was initially proposed by the Election Commission. In India, though, simultaneous elections remained the rule until 1967.
- In 1951-52, the House of People (Lok Sabha) and all State Legislative Assemblies held their first general elections.
- This pattern was repeated in three successive General Elections, in 1957, 1962, and 1967.
- The cycle was disturbed in 1968 and 1969 when several Legislative Assemblies were prematurely dissolved.
- The Lok Sabha was dismissed early in 1970, and new elections were conducted in 1971. As a result, the First, Second, and Third Lok Sabhas each served for a full five years.
- Independent elections to the Lok Sabha and several State Legislative Assemblies have been held as a consequence of early dissolutions and extensions of tenure of both the Lok Sabha and several State Legislative Assemblies, disrupting the pattern of simultaneous elections.
Simultaneous Election Debates
According to an NITI Aayog report, the country holds at least one election annually. In fact, every state holds one as well. NITI Aayog noted in that article that holding numerous elections has a number of direct and indirect consequences.
- Elections Have Immeasurable Economic Costs: Directly allocated costs for a state the size of Bihar are roughly Rs 300 crore. Nevertheless, there are additional monetary expenditures as well as incalculable economic effects.
- Due to election duty and related activities, government machinery misses out on their regular tasks during each election.
- These expenses of millions of man-hours aren’t included in the election budget.
- Policy paralysis: The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has an impact on government functionaries, as no new major policy can be proclaimed and implemented after the elections are declared.
- Administrative Costs: There are also significant and obvious costs associated with continuously recruiting and transferring security officers.
- The nation pays a larger hidden cost in terms of diverting these soldiers away from critical locations, as well as the weariness and sicknesses that come with recurrent cross-country operations.
Objections to Simultaneous Elections
- Federal Issue: Simultaneous elections are practically hard to achieve since it would need either shortening or lengthening the terms of current legislatures in order to align their election dates with the national deadline.
- A step like this would jeopardise democracy and federalism.
- Forced Simultaneous Elections are Against the Idea of Democracy: Critics argue that imposing simultaneous elections is against the spirit of democracy since establishing an unnatural election cycle and limiting voter choice is incorrect.
- Regional Parties at a Deficit: Regional parties are said to be at an unfairness because citizens are said to be more inclined to vote one way in simultaneous elections, giving the leading party at the centre an edge.
- Reduced Accountability: Politicians’ responsibility is increased and they are kept on their toes when they have to face the voters more than once every five years.
Simultaneous elections would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution as well as other laws. Nevertheless, it must be implemented in a manner that does not jeopardise the fundamental ideals of democracy and federalism.
In this perspective, the Law Commission has proposed an alternative, namely, classifying states based on their closeness to the next general election, and holding one round of State Assembly elections concurrent with the next Lok Sabha election, and a second round 30 months later for the rest Of the states. However, there is no certainty that mid-term elections will not be required.