Simultaneous Elections: Assault on Democracy

THE prime minister and the BJP are keen to enforce simultaneous elections for the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. The president, in his address to parliament, has called for a sustained debate on simultaneous elections, so that political parties can arrive at a consensus on the issue.

The case for simultaneous elections is that frequent elections impose a huge expenditure on the exchequer.  It is also argued that the `Model Code of Conduct’, which comes into force before the elections, impedes development activities.  Further, a series of elections every year is said to be a heavy burden on human resources. 

The arguments against enforcing simultaneous elections for parliament and the state legislatures are not technical in nature, or, that it is impractical.  The basic objection to the concept is that it is fundamentally anti-democratic and strikes at the root of the parliamentary democratic system.

To hold the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections together would require tampering with the Constitutional scheme of accountability of the government to the legislature.  Under the Constitution, if a government is voted out on a no-confidence motion, or, loses a vote on a Money Bill, it is bound to resign and if no alternative government can be formed, the House is dissolved and a mid-term election held.  There is no fixity of tenure enshrined in the Constitution either for the Lok Sabha, or, for the state assemblies.

In order to bring about simultaneous elections, there are various suggestions being made to amend the Constitution. One of the suggestions made by a discussion paper released by the Niti Aayog is that if the dissolution of the Lok Sabha cannot be avoided and the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha is not long, then a provision can be made for the president to carry out the administration of the country, on the aid and advice of a council of ministers to be appointed by him/her till the next House is constituted.  This outrageous proposal would make the president head the executive.  This is bringing an executive president through the back door. 

The other corollory is that if, at the time of the dissolution of the House, the remaining period is long, then fresh elections would be held and the term of the House would be only for the rest of the remaining period, ie, if the dissolution of the House takes place say after two years of its term, then, the election will be held for a three year term.  So, actually, there will be more frequent Lok Sabha elections, which defeats the purpose, for which simultaneous elections are being advocated. 

Similarly, in the case of state legislatures, if there is a dissolution after a major part of the term is over, the governor would run the state for the rest of the term of the House.  This again would mean central rule.

The other way proposed for aligning the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections is to extend the life of some of the assemblies, or, to shorten the tenure of some.  For instance, the Niti Aayog paper proposes reduction in the term of the Tripura Assembly by 15 months at one extreme and extending the life of the current Bihar Assembly by 13 months at the other end.  Both reduction of the term of the assembly, or, its extension are profoundly anti-democratic and violate the basic rights of citizens to elect their legislators.

Various strategies are put forth to circumvent the accountability of the executive to the legislature and to ensure fixity of tenure of the House. One of the proposals mooted is that when a no-confidence motion is moved, it must be accompanied by a motion to elect a new leader of the House.  This means that the right of the legislators to vote out a government is circumscribed and conditional to their electing a new government.

The obsession with fixity of tenure and stability is a ruling class concern which is in full conformity with the neoliberal regime.

The right of elected legislators and members of the Lok Sabha to vote out any government cannot be circumscribed, nor can the right of a ruling party which has a stable majority in the House to recommend dissolution of the House and hold early elections be also curtailed. 

India is a vast country with political diversity and only a federal set-up can sustain political democracy.  Having elections in states at different times is one element of the federal system. 

The BJP slogan is “One nation, one election”, just as it believes in “One nation, one culture, one language”.  The concept of holding simultaneous election by tampering with the Constitution will only foster centralised authoritarianism.  This must be resolutely opposed. 

(February 7, 2018)

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