Simultaneous elections: Is it legally and practically possible?

  • Prime Minister Modi has suggested having simultaneous elections to legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha.
  • Report of the standing committee on parliament also suggests having simultaneous elections
  • Therefore issue has again gained traction from the time it was last discussed in 2010

  The issues with the present system are: 

  • The high cost of the elections
  • Multi-phase elections take away a lot of time
  • Too much of administrative machinery occupied in elections disrupts the regular governance
  • Discontinuation in administration for nearly two and half months as officials are held up

Suggestion of Standing committee:

  • Instead of simultaneous elections, we can have two phases of elections- one in the mid-term of the Lok Sabha and the other at the end of the Lok Sabha.

What are these legal and constitutional issues in having a simultaneous system? Several experts opine:

  • It is impossible to achieve it
  • It is constitutionally and legally not possible.
  • Founding fathers of the Constitution envisaged a federal polity of a sui-generis nature
  • So, a multi-party system with elections is the most fundamental manifestation of this will of the popular sovereign.
  • Assemblies might get dissolved in an untimely manner.
  • According to Article 85 and Article 174, elections to Lok Sabha and Legislative assemblies have to be held within six months (respectively) of dissolving either of them. So how can it be feasible if elections are held only at fixed durations?
  • If elections are not held within six months, it would be a travesty of democracy to keep the state under President’s rule for such a long time.
  • The essence of democracy must be maintained
  • If Lok Sabha is dissolved within its first year of election, then what happens to the state assemblies?
  • There is a bye-election system in India, unlike in a Presidential system like that of the USA. So how about those seats which fall vacant mid-way?
  • Earlier, a single party was dominant at national, state and local body elections. Hence, simultaneous elections were feasible
  • How can there be simultaneous elections when there are different parties at the Centre, State, and local bodies?
  • Now, when the multi-party democracy is a reality, it shows the polycentric voter diversity.
  • Hence, having simultaneous elections in such a scenario could clutter the voter’s mind space
  • However, some other experts opine that there can be a clause for exceptional cases like the untimely dissolution of the legislative assemblies or the Lok Sabha, but there is yet to be a consensus on this.

Is there a possibility for the constitutional amendment?

  • Experts feel it is not practical
  • The democratic right of the people cannot be taken away
  • The reasons will not stand judicial scrutiny
  • One level of governance (Union, State and Local bodies) cannot be subjected to the vagaries of the other

What are the possible solutions? Experts suggest the following:

  • All of these issues can be tackled through electoral reforms, without getting into Constitutional matters.
  • Expenditure undertaken by political parties for various elections the parties can be capped or even state funding of political parties can be adopted
  • The main worry, for the conduct of free and fair polls, is the security of the process.
  • For the model code of conduct to not be stretched out, we can have a single phase parliamentary election or even State polls, provided at least 10 battalions of paramilitary are raised.
  • The EC gives an informally held notice or leeway to political parties in states, of around 21 days before the actual poll dates before announcing it. This can be reduced to seven days. The EC can announce dates later, and the period that the model code of conduct is in place becomes shorter.

Conclusions: Free and fair elections are positive manifestations of the democratic right of the people. Elections ensure accountability of the people. It brings the governed and the people who govern closer to each other. Hence, any trampling with the process which can possibly clutter the voter’s choice is unwarranted and lead to a deficit of democracy. The challenges in the present system are genuine. However, there are other possible solutions which can be tried. As several political thinkers have said, “Indian democracy is a unique case of a successful functional democracy with a vast diversity”.The highlight of this diversity is the choice and opinion. Hence, any amendments to the democracy’s largest festival should not be fraught with damaging the democracy itself.

Other useful articles:

  Practice Question: 1) Give a brief history of the Electoral reforms done in the past in India? Do you agree with a view that a lot of time and money is wasted on the conduct of elections in India? Give your arguments. 2) Democracy in India is a wonderful experiment with its imperfections. Within these imperfections lie the solutions to penetrate the democracy deeper. In the light of the above statement, critically comment on the proposal to hold simultaneous conduct of elections to Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies and Local bodies.

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