Rajeev Chandrasekhar's official website - Member of Parliament

Electoral Reforms Needed To Meet The Aspirations Of The People

September 5, 2013

The essence of any democratic system is the healthy functioning of political parties and, consequently, free and fair elections. While there are examples of some exemplary people in public life, there has been a steady deterioration in the standards and practices of many others in the political class. Over the years, Parliament has taken several measures to amend the laws relating to elections. Yet, the improvement has only been limited.

The People of India want a change in the way they are governed. The first part towards this change is reform in the existing framework in which they exercise their franchise. Reforms are required in the political and electoral process to align them with the aspirations of the people, uphold the principles of probity and transparency in public life, and to maximize participation of citizens in the electoral process. How? Here are my suggestions:

I.STRENGTHENING THE ELECTION COMMISSION (EC) AND REBUILDING THE FAITH IN THE INSTITUTION

1. Depoliticize appointments to the EC

The Election Commission is the electoral referee who ensures that elections are free and fair. Given this role, the appointment of officials to the EC should be done by an impartial and bipartisan selection committee, in consultation with the Chief Justice. A provision debarring Election Commission officers from joining political parties after retirement should also be put in place.

2. Strengthen the EC to form its own laws

To ensure the autonomous functioning of the Election Commission, the EC must have powers to form its own laws, unlike the present scenario wherein the EC has to wait for the elected representatives to approve its recommendations. Also, the EC should be granted financial autonomy, to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

II. INCREASING TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY OF ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES

1. Fixed Term for Legislature

To curtail unnecessary election expenditure and ensure stable governments at both the Centre and in the States a fixed term for legislature is necessary. If governments fall, the same legislature is forced to form another government and if that fails, Presidents/ Governors rule will continue till the term is over or legislators form a new government.

2. Concurrent State and Central Elections

I believe that to ensure that elections do not come in the way of governance as they do today, concurrent state and central elections should be held. Simultaneous elections will not only ensure that Governments at the centre and the states carry out their responsibilities in a smooth manner but also curtail unnecessary election expenditure. The arrangement of simultaneous elections can be extended to the elections for the municipal corporations and other Panchayati Raj institutions.

3. Recall Elections

The right to vote to power should also include the right to recall. The constitution should be amended to provide for Recall Elections whereby people have the right to recall their elected representatives if they are found to be nonperforming or violating the trust of the electorate in forms of impropriety, conduct etc.

4. Annual Audit of All Mainstream Political Parties and Candidates and Strict Enforcement of Spending Caps by the EC

To ensure financial transparency in the accounts of political parties and candidates, an annual audit should be conducted and strict fine imposed if found guilty of misconduct. There should also be a strict enforcement of the ceiling I limit imposed on election expenditure.

5. Ban Candidates Convicted of Criminal Offences

Criminalization of Politics is a worrying phenomenon. I had stated in my letter on Electoral Reforms to the Law Commission that candidates who have been convicted of criminal offences should not be allowed to contest elections. The Supreme Court’s recent verdict that convicted MPs/MLAs should be disqualified endorses my view. I however disagree with the Supreme Court verdict on even accused MPs/MLAs being disqualified. Disqualification should be upon conviction and not upon framing of charges since our judicial system follows the axiom of “ innocent until proven guilty”.

III. INCREASING VOTER AWARENESS AND PARTICIPATION IN OUR DEMOCRACY

1. Giving a 4-month Pre-Election Budget to EC for Advertising & Communications

A 4-month pre-election advertising and communications budget should be given to the EC, to be used for communicating and promoting awareness about registration and voting processes, and the impending elections.

2. Easier & Simpler Voter Registration Process

The process of registration for a new voter is very tedious and discourages the young citizen from being a part of the democratic process. The EC website is also not userfriendly . Sometimes, voting forms itself are not available in the ward offices or head offices. The Election Commission must take steps to make the process of voter registration easier.

3. Increase the ambit of Absentee Ballot and Providing Opportunities for Advance Voting

While on one had we fret over poor voter turnouts , on the other, unfortunately, the unavailability of absentee ballots has prevented those who want to vote, but are away from home, from exercising their franchise. In order to enable these citizen to vote, the EC should increase the ambit of the absentee ballot. Several civic society organizations have already advocated this amendment to the Act to allow NRis and people on the move to cast their vote through absentee ballot system, through a combination of internet and postal ballot. Citizens who may not be able to cast their vote on the day of the election should be allowed the opportunity to exercise their vote in advance.

4. Increasing the number of polling booths

One of the biggest problems which a common man faces while exercising his/ her right is standing in long queues in scorching sun, travelling several kilometers for making one’s vote and so on. These shortcomings shouJd be curtailed by increasing the number of polling booths and also by providing proper waiting shelters at the booths.

5. Making EVMs tamper proof

There is an urgent need to address the credibility of Electoral Voting Machines. EVMs do not have a cross verification programme that further raises questions. The EC should experiment by using ballot boxes along with EVMs to ensure cross checking.

6. None of the Above Option (49-0) on the EVMs

The current process of asking a voter who opts for 49-0 to enter to enter his/her electoral roll number and put a thumb impression/sig nature in Form 17 A separately kept by the presiding officer, goes against the system of secret ballots. The voters should have the option of “None of the Above” {Section 49-0) on the Electronic Voting Machines {EVMs) itself, to protect their identity and maintain the secrecy of the ballot in its letter and spirit.

7. Address deficiencies in the Voting System for Armed Forces Personnel

Currently,a majority of our Armed Forces personnel are denied their basic democratic right to vote, with most of them having been able to vote only post retirement, as our election system does not provide an efficient mechanism for them to cast their votes.. Though the EC provides soldiers with the options of postal ballot system and proxy voting method, these have not been able to yield results due to certain deficiencies. These deficiencies cam be addressed through the following measures:

a) The cantonments and military stations where the soldiers are posted are a part of various constituencies of democratic elections in the country. Therefore, soldiers should be conferred the rights to be registered as voters in the constituency, where they are serving, as ordinary residents of that constituency.

b) Provision of virtual voting booths at various command posts so that soldiers are able to cast votes centrally easily and participate in the democratic process. The votes can then be transmitted to their respective constituencies.

c) Introduce advance voting I early voting, in line with practices adopted by many other countries, to increase voter participation.

8. Reservation of 33% of Seats for Women

The United Nations states that the number of women in the Indian Parliament is lower than the global average. Only 11% of Members of our Parliament are women. For a truly representative Parliament, the Women’s Reservation Bill must be passed at the earliest to reserve 33% of seats in the Parliament and State Legislatures for women.

9. Popularising the Graduates Constituency and Teachers Constituency in Legislative Councils.

Enrollment levels for voting in the Graduate constituency and Teachers Constituency seats in Bicameral States are very low. For example, Bangalore has over 22.52 lakh graduates. But only 17,406 applications were received in response to the notice by the Election Commission for elections in 2012. The dismal enrolment rates are due to the absolute lack of information about the enrolment process. For those who seek to register, attestation of documents has become a huge bottleneck owing to the lack of dedicated staff. The Election Commission must take steps to create greater knowledge and awareness among citizens about the Graduates Constituency and create adequate
publicity during enrolments.

Elections are the building blocks of a democracy. It is thus essential that we strengthen institutions, streamline the electoral process , ensure transparency and accountability of all stakeholders and educate the Indian voter.

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