Proposed electoral reforms,
A preliminary introduction

All of us who are working for protecting and upholding civil rights of the citizens of this country are deeply concerned with deteriorating democratic polity of the country. The increasing role and interference of muscle and money power in elections on the one hand, and exploitation of the electorate on caste and religious sentiments on the other, is a cause of concern for all right thinking persons. It is true that our democracy has survived despite all odds and despite deteriorating moral values in the society. It is equally true that standards of parliamentary debates and democratic values are also deteriorating fast. In the aforesaid background the 170th Law Commissions Suo Motu report on election reforms is a welcome sign; it also strengthens our belief that constitutional institutions of the country like Law Commission of India are alive to this situation and has come forward with 170th Report which we welcome.

However, we feel that the present report of the law Commission may not be allowed to be shelved like many other law Commission reports suggesting reforms in our legal system. We have called for debate on the report and have requested eminent social and political thinkers to express their view on the report and have -also requested various political parties to participate in this discussion. It is heartening that all concerned have agreed to debate the issue and it is more heartening that on our request the Chairman of Law Commission of India, Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy has also agreed to be here, to listen to comments of speakers. [Justice Reddy declined to attend the seminar at the last moment].

The report is divided in IX Parts and the proposed Amendment Bills in the Constitution of India, Representative of People's Act, Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code.

PART-I is introductory. PART-II contains views of political parties and intellectuals.

PART-III deals with: 1, Necessity for providing law relating to internal democracy within political parties. 2. Analysis of views and conclusions, regarding the list system. 3. Debarring of Independent candidates to contest Lok Sabha elections. 4. A proposed Amendment of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, popularly known as law for checking defections. PART-IV relates to control of Election Expenses which, inter alia deals with: (i) Proposal to delete explanation 1 to Section 77 i.e. that the expenditure incurred by political parties will be included within election expenditure of the candidate. (ii) Providing mandatorily for maintenance of audit and publication of accounts by political parties. (iii) State funding of elections. PART-V refers to disqualification -- if a court has framed charges against a person for criminal offence for the specified offences for a period of five years or till he is acquitted or discharged, he will be disqualified from contesting elections. PART-VI proposes ineligibility to contest election unless the candidate furnishes the particulars regarding the lawful assets possessed by the candidate, his spouse and dependant relatives and the particulars regarding criminal cases pending against himself or herself. PART-VIT deals with proposed measures regarding instability in Governance and for, improving the electoral system. PART-VIII proposes alternate methods of elections.

Some of the recommendations merit consideration. The report proposes controlling election expenditure by suggesting to delete the explanation 1 to Section 77 of Representative of People's Act. It provides for internal democracy in political parties, mandatory audit of accounts of political parties and their publication disqualifying a candidate against whom a charge has been framed by a court alleging his/her involvement in a criminal offence of a serious nature, etc. However, necessary safeguards must be provided that this provision is not misused. These are welcome suggestions.

So far as the Amendment of the 10th Schedule is concerned, one may agree on principle that the law of defection be made effective but the proposal of the Law Commission needs further discussion: what will happen if a parliamentary party is equally divided or MP's of a political party nave different views from that of the organisation of the party? And, so on.

In regard to state funding the commission has only partly recommended state funding. This issue also needs detailed deliberations.

Delhi PUCL organised the present seminar to put our caveat on various other recommendations made by the Law Commission.

List System
1st List system has been commended by major political parties like Congress, BJP., CPI., DMK and Akali Dal, Shri Rajindar Sachar and other intellectuals. It provides that 25% seats of Lok Sabha should be increased, and recognised political parties should be permitted to nominate the members to parliament proportionately to the votes which they have got in the general elections.

The Purpose behind this suggestion is elimination of smaller parties (p 75).
The report adds: "Any political party whether recognised or not, which attains less than 5% of the total valid votes cast in the election of the house of the people shall not be entitled to any seat in the House of People" (p 77).

A similar suggestion has been made for the State Assemblies.
If any constituency which has elected a candidate of a political party which is deprived of the seat in the House of People or in the Legislature Assembly shall be represented by a candidate of a political party who has attained next higher votes than the elected candidate (p 78).

The report recommends debarring of Independent candidates to contest Election (p 81-2).
Any person can form a party and contest the election, subject to like conditions that the said party should get 5% of the total valid votes cast in the election.

These recommendations completely ignore the ground realities of the political situation of this vast country. Election has not been conceived by our constitution framers only as a method of entering the ambit of power; it has been conceived as a mode of education to a large number of electorates, part of struggle against vested interest, to propagate the views and the philosophy to which many individuals and organisations have devoted their life. All these voices are proposed to be throttled by such a draconian anti undemocratic proposal. Another factor which the Law Commission Has not taken into consideration in this I relates to those disgruntled youth who are indulging in violence in the name of Nxalite or similar violent movements. Our effort should be directed to persuade to join the mainstream of the country to accept the democratic polity. There d be no such proposals which will the doors even for such youths.

Stability of Governance:
1st Measure: By Elimination of similar political parties suggested earlier, the major political parties should form pre-election fronts that eliminate defections and instill stability . 2nd Measure: (1) Once a no-confidence motion is taken up for discussion and defeated no fresh motion expressing want of confidence in the council of ministers shall be permitted to be made within a period of two years (p 152). A similar proposal has been suggested if the council of ministers obtains a vote of confidence; that is, for two years there will be no motion. for vote of no-confidence. No leave shall be granted to a motion expressing want of confidence in the council ministers unless it is accompanied by a vote of confidence; that is, unless the vote of confidence passed the vote of no-confidence shall not be given effect to.

In our view in the name of stability this is permitting the party in' power to manipulate majority in their favour by hook or crook within two years, even though they may not command majority in the house of people subsequent to the confidence vote/no-confidence vote. This proposal is against the bask ethics of parliamentary democracy wherein the party in power loses majority in the lower house, it is not entitled to remain in power any more. In such circumstances the President can always call upon the government to test its majority on the floor of the house. These proposals are not only against the basics of parliamentary democracy but also tend to favour dictatorial trends. Likewise the second proposal, that is, carrying vote of confidence along with a no-confidence motion is anti-democratic, and anti-people.

In a given circumstance a coalition of parties may have agreed to form the Government on an agreed agenda; but when the major party decides to flout the agreed agenda the other coalition parties do not want to remain part of the government. In such a situation they can not be compelled to agree to a vote of confidence in favour of a person with whom they differ on principle. This also will perpetuate a minority government to remain in power which will have serious repercussion in the functioning of the Government in accordance with constitutional norms.

Unalterable term to Lok Sabha and State Assembles, for five years (p 158 -4): The Election Commission has not dealt with this subject. We, are however opposed to any such proposal.

- R.B. Mehrotra, President, PUCL-Delhi

Home | Index