As the elections to Lok Sabha in 2019 approach, the debate on simultaneous elections has become shriller. Some commentators are attempting to portray this reform as a politically beneficial one for the ruling party while some are opposing the move itself.
Some of the major aspersions cast on this idea are below, followed by a discussion on these questions.
Are simultaneous elections anti-democratic in nature?
Some commentators posit simultaneous elections as anti-democratic. They speculate thus:
- What happens when the Lok Sabha or state assembly is dissolved earlier?
- Due to simultaneous elections, President or Governor will to have keep them in suspended animation to wait for next round of elections.
- This, the commentators say, is against the spirit of democracy.
These concerns seem unfounded as the Law Commission, in its draft report in 2018 on simultaneous elections, has already suggested a solution to the above scenario. Replacement of the existing provision of No Confidence Motion with a provision of Constructive Motion of No Confidence (CMNC) can help tackle such situations. This also ensure the stability of the government. Here is how it works:
- As soon as an opposition leader brings in the No Confidence Motion against the incumbent government, he/she also has to suggest an alternative i.e. suggest the name of the next Prime Minister in case of Lok Sabha or Chief Minister in the case of a state assembly.
- The new leader will then have to prove his/her numbers and head a government.
- If the new leader is unable to prove majority, the No Confidence Motion lapses.
- The earlier government, in that case, will continue to function.
The concept of CMNC is not only democratic in spirit – it gives opportunities to democratically elected leaders to stake the claim and prove numbers. However, it also checks frivolous No Confidence Motions and breakaway machinations that have plagued our democracy in the past and harmed stability.
Are election costs really a concern? Will simultaneous elections help?
The below graph shows election expenditure on Lok Sabha elections.
As the table shows, the cost of conducting Lok Sabha elections witnessed a significant jump especially after 2004. The cost incurred in conducting 2009 Lok Sabha elections was approximately Rs 1,115 crores and for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, it increased by more than three times to about Rs 3,870 crores.
Niti Ayog in its working paper quotes newspaper reports (sources below) which suggest:
- Government incurred a cost of about Rs 300 crores in conducting elections to the Bihar Assembly in 2015.
- Gujarat Assembly polls in 2017, it was said at that time, were likely to cost another INR 240 crore.
Now, if figures (underlined above) are added, this comes to around INR 4400 crore, thus this is the total cost of Lok Sabha elections along with just two state assembly polls. Imagine adding the costs of all other election cycles across all states to this – the number would be huge.
Niti Ayog in its above paper says, “in contrast to above set of data, the cost of holding elections for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies has been pegged at INR 4500 crore by the ECI in case elections are held simultaneously.”
Hence, cost of simultaneous elections will be far lesser than costs incurred in the existing ‘constant election mode’.
Are simultaneous elections a partisan move by the ruling party, aimed at winning elections?
Some sections of media believe that NDA government is desperate to hold simultaneous elections as it will benefit the BJP because the Prime Minister’s charisma will help its candidates in both Lok Sabha and State legislative assemblies.
However, simultaneous elections have seen bipartisan support earlier. It is to be noted that even the Congress leaders endorsed the idea which is now getting further support from many political parties.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee had called for a constructive debate on simultaneous elections.
79th report of the parliamentary standing committee in 2015, headed by Dr. E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan from the Congress party, recommended simultaneous elections with a two-phase election schedule – one concurrent with Lok Sabha elections, the second in the mid-term of the Lok Sabha.
Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha and leader of BJD also reportedly supported the idea of ‘One Nation One Poll’.
Further, this is not the BJP’s or PM Modi’s idea. The idea of simultaneous elections was first mooted in 1983 by the Election Commission of India in its first annual report, for one of the prominent reasons et al., “Considerable saving on the colossal avoidable administrative and other expenditure incurred on account of holding of separate General elections.”
After that, Law Commission of India in its 170th report (1999) recommended simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative assembly. It suggested that, “elections to the 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.”
In fact, as mentioned above, 79th report of the parliamentary standing committee in 2015 concluded that “such a reform was important for India if it is to compete with other nations in developmental agenda on real time basis as a robust, democratic country.”
Does simultaneous elections favour one party or the ruling party?
There is a theory that if elections are held simultaneously, there is a 77 percent chance that the Indian voter will vote for the same party for both the State and Centre.
Niti Ayog in its analysis in a working paper, 2017, says,
“Correlation does not imply causation”- this 77 percent hypothesis indicate that the “effect” essentially is voters tending to choose same party for Lok Sabha and State Assembly. These, however do not conclusively attribute the “cause” for the above “effect” to simultaneous elections.”
It also says,
“In a mature democratic set-up that India is, the mandate of voters for State Assembly elections or Lok Sabha elections held simultaneously or otherwise is generally a reflection of a range of parameters and not merely the timing. There have been many cases where voters have voted for same parties at the State and Lok Sabha even when such elections did not take place simultaneously. There are many other examples where voters have voted for smaller state/regional parties even in Lok Sabha elections irrespective of the larger national trends in favor of select national parties. All such examples indicate that by and large voters are capable to assess their best interests and cast their votes to candidates/parties that he/she wants to.”
Our previous articles explaining the simultaneous elections