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Editorial of the Day: Drop the bad idea of simultaneous elections (The Hindu)

Context: The article is discussing the concept of “one nation, one election,” which refers to the idea of holding both national (parliamentary) and state elections simultaneously in India. The article mentions the formation of a committee, led by former President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, to explore the feasibility of implementing this concept and any necessary constitutional changes. It also discusses the pros and cons of the “one nation, one election” proposal in India, considering its potential benefits in terms of cost reduction and political stability, as well as its potential drawbacks related to democratic plurality and federalism.

Background

What are Simultaneous Elections?

  • Simultaneous elections, also known as synchronized elections or one-nation-one-election, refer to the practice of holding multiple elections for various levels of government (such as national, state, and local elections) at the same time or on a synchronized schedule.
  • It will involve the restructuring of the Indian election cycle in a manner that elections to the states and the centre synchronize.
  • This would mean that the voters will cast their vote for electing members of the LS and the state assemblies on a single day, at the same time (or in a phased manner as the case may be).

History of Simultaneous Elections in India

  • The concept of simultaneous elections is not new to the country.
  • Post adoption of the Constitution of India, the First General Elections to the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and all Vidhan Sabhas (State Legislative Assemblies) were held simultaneously in 1951-52.
  • This practice continued in three subsequent General Elections held in the years 1957, 1962 and 1967.
  • However, due to premature dissolution of some State Legislative Assemblies in 1968 and 1969, the cycle of synchronized elections got disrupted. In 1970, the Lok Sabha itself was dissolved prematurely and fresh elections were held in 1971.
  • Thus, since 1967 elections, the practice of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas could not be maintained and the elections have still not been realigned.

Decoding the Editorial

The primary arguments in favour of simultaneous elections are:

  • Cost Reduction: Holding elections at different times can be expensive for the government and political parties. Simultaneous elections are seen as a way to reduce the overall cost of conducting elections and election campaigns.
  • Reducing “Permanent Campaign Mode”: It is argued that frequent elections at different levels keep political parties in a state of “permanent campaign mode.” Simultaneous elections could potentially free up political parties to focus on governance and constructive opposition for a longer, uninterrupted period of five years.

However, the article also highlights potential concerns and drawbacks of simultaneous elections, including:

  • Undermining Democratic Plurality: Holding elections simultaneously may risk reducing the diversity of political voices and choices available to voters. Different issues may be relevant at different times, and simultaneous elections could overshadow state-specific concerns with national issues.
  • Concentration of Power: There is a concern that simultaneous elections could potentially strengthen the central government’s power at the expense of state governments, which could undermine the principles of federalism and balance of power.
  • Logistical Challenges: Critics raise concerns about the logistical challenges of conducting simultaneous elections in a country as large as India, particularly since even state elections require multiple phases.
  • Incompatibility with Parliamentary Democracy: One of the more critical concerns is the incompatibility of a fixed election schedule with the principles of parliamentary democracy. In parliamentary systems, the government must maintain the confidence of the legislative house. Simultaneous elections might create a problem when a government falls, as it would disrupt the fixed election schedule.

Proposed Solutions and Their Drawbacks:

  • Imposing President’s Rule: Some have suggested imposing central rule in a state where the government falls until the fixed five-year cycle is completed. Critics argue that this would undermine federalism and democracy.
  • Shortening the Term of the New Assembly: Another proposed solution is to hold elections in the state, but the term of the new assembly would only last until the next cycle. Critics argue that this would undermine the justifications for simultaneous elections (cost savings and reduced campaigning time) and create perverse incentives for the state government regarding governance.

Potential Consequences and Concerns of holding Simultaneous Elections:

​​1. Possibility of Increased “Horse-Trading”:

  • The article suggests that the push to avoid the fall of a government, even when it loses the confidence of the legislative house, may increase due to simultaneous elections.
  • “Horse-trading,” which refers to the unethical practice of buying or trading lawmakers to secure their support, has been a concern in Indian politics.
  • Attempts to prevent such practices, as outlined in the Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, have not been entirely successful.
  • Consequently, simultaneous elections could potentially lead to an increase in “horse-trading,” with the parties having greater financial resources benefiting the most.

2. Federalism Concerns:

  • Federalism in India refers to the division of powers and responsibilities between the central government and state governments, recognizing the diversity of linguistic, cultural, ethnic, and other collective aspirations within the country.
  • Simultaneous elections could blur the distinction between the national and state levels of democracy, potentially overshadowing state-level issues with national ones.
  • This blurring is seen as inevitable due to the dominance of national-level politics and the campaigning strategies of national parties.

Keeping absolute power in Check:

1. Preservation of Federalism:

  • The article asserts that the federal structure of the Indian Constitution is essential for checking the concentration of power.
  • This federal structure relies on a diversity of democratic contests and political parties at the state level.
  • Simultaneous elections could undermine this plurality and potentially lead to the concentration of power at the national level.

2. Protection of Democracy and Public Participation:

  • There is Limited space for direct public participation in the Indian Constitution.
  • Unlike some other constitutions that guarantee rights like public participation in law-making and the right to recall representatives, India primarily relies on elections as the primary form of public participation in the political sphere.
  • The article argues that more regular and frequent elections allow for extended public engagement and debate.
  • Simultaneous elections, on the other hand, could reduce the frequency of such opportunities for public participation without compensating for it in other ways.

Beyond the Editorial

Way Forward

  • Conducting election in two phases: Parliamentary Standing Committee has suggested that simultaneous elections be considered in two-phases.
    • Phase I is suggested to be in sync with that of the Lok Sabha elections.
    • Phase II is suggested approximately mid-way in the term of the Lok Sabha.
    • Thus, it is envisaged to conduct elections every 2.5 years (30 months) in the country once the entire electoral cycles of Lok Sabha and all State Assemblies are synchronized.
  • Avoiding premature dissolution: Election commission has made following recommendations:
    • In case of Lok Sabha: Any ‘no-confidence motion’ moved should also necessarily include a further ‘confidence motion’ in favour of a government to be headed by a named individual as the future Prime Minister.
    • In spite of the above arrangement, if there is a situation where dissolution of Lok Sabha cannot be avoided, then the following options can be considered:
      • If the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha is not long (period to be specified), there could be a provision for the President to carry out the administration of the country, on the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers to be appointed by him till, the time the next House is constituted at the prescribed time.
      • If the remainder of the term is long (period to be specified), then fresh election may be held and the term of the House in such case should be for the rest of what would have been the original term.
    • In the case of Legislative Assembly: In the event of a ‘no-confidence motion’, it should be mandatory to simultaneously move a ‘confidence motion’ for formation of an alternative government. This will, in normal course, eliminate cases of premature dissolution of Assemblies.
    • If for any unavoidable reason, any existing Legislative Assembly has to be dissolved prematurely, there should be a provision for the Governor to carry out the administration of the State, on the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers to be appointed by him, or for the imposition of the President’s Rule, till period of expiry of term.
  • Schedule of Bye-elections: The Parliamentary Standing Committee recommended that bye-elections to all seats that become vacant during a year may be conducted together during a pre-determined time period.
  • Law Commission recommendations: It had suggested that elections of legislative assemblies whose term ends six months after the general elections to Lok Sabha can be clubbed together. However, the results of such elections can be declared at the end of the assembly’s tenure.
  • NITI Aayog model on how simultaneous elections can be implemented:

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