Understanding the broader picture of Simultaneous Elections

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Free and fair election procedure to select the representatives of a state marks the successful functioning of the democratic polity. With the closing of next General Elections and upcoming crucial State elections like in Gujarat, the political parties have geared up to fully channelise all their energies to mobilize the electorates. All the outstanding issues would be raised to depict the shortcomings of the present dispensation. But, there are various other hidden issues that are needed to be uncovered. These issues directly impact the electorates. One such issue is the reintroduction of ‘Simultaneous Elections’. The practice of conducting elections has been devolved upon the direction of Election Commission of India. The ECI has been constitutionally empowered to regulate and conduct free and fair elections.

The first General Elections and all State Assembly Elections were held simultaneously. The subsequent three elections were also held in the same manner. But, with the change in the political climate, the elections were held differently. The Election Commission of India has managed to hold successful elections in the country despite bottlenecks. Recently, the Commission became the scapegoat of the political rivalry on the issue of Electronic Voting Machines. Then, the question arises why the ECI should be overburdened with another responsibility of extracting the possibility of holding simultaneous elections of Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. Let us try to look deeper into the issue with the help of the 79th report of Parliamentary Standing Committee tilted ‘Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to House of People and State Legislative Assemblies’. The report has supported the practice of holding elections simultaneously. Not only this, Niti Ayog has also recommended holding simultaneous elections in a two phased manner.

The rising voice for holding simultaneous elections has caught the momentum. It is important to understand the reasons behind it and the challenges it would pose if implemented. Firstly, let us try to critically evaluate the reasons for holding both Lok Sabha and State Assembly Elections simultaneously. To conduct elections, huge expenses are incurred. These expenses are borne out of the public exchequer. The elections held in regular intervals have become an exorbitant affair. The incessant demands of elections involve a budget, and as pointed by the discussion paper it causes huge financial losses. To address this challenge, simultaneous election is the best possible alternative. If elections are held together then a uniform budget could be set clearly laying down the expenditure. It would be beneficial to save a huge amount incurred for election expenses. Another aspect would be the disruption to governance and public life and impediments to implement welfare policies. The implementation of Model Code of Conduct disrupts the smooth functioning of the public life which further causes discourages development activities. A need is also felt within the political class to resort to the practice of holding elections simultaneously.

Although it may sound very conducive to hold simultaneous elections, but there are impediments lying ahead obstructing its implementation throughout the country. It is an undeniable fact that the challenge of holding free and fair elections in a huge country like India is a difficult task. But yet, the Election Commission has unfailing performed its duties with complete success. Now, if elections are held simultaneously then the ECI would witness a major administrative shift. To hold elections with same efficiency would be the biggest task due to several administrative hurdles. Apart from that, the deployment of security personals and duty officers at the time and their mobilization and training would be taxing. The concept of simultaneous elections finds no mention in the Representation of the People Act. To amend it, political will would be required, also the dissolution of the ongoing assembly to hold elections would pose several constitutional and administrative hurdles. Even if there is an agreement to bear this one time inconvenience, there are other factors involved which do not make it a feasible affair. With the growing political consciousness and shift in increasing trust towards the regional parties, the role of regional parties in political contestation has become very vital. This is a positive indication to the democratic structure. But, if elections are held simultaneously then the role of regional parties would be in jeopardy. This could be understood with the voter’s behaviour. If the public is swayed towards a political party then there is a possibility that the popular party would likely be benefited and it would undermine the role of the regional parties further affecting the aspirations of the marginalised communities.

Although, several reports have propagated for its implementation, but yet to enforce it in full scale would not be a viable option. As the issue is of great importance and further deliberations are required to implement it in a phased manner. It is undoubtedly a need of the hour, but careful implementation after extracting all the possible challenges is equally essential