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Urgency of Electoral Reforms

Pannalal Surana
It seems the campaigning of main political parties during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections were very expensive. Use of air-borne vehicles must have cost crores and crores of rupees while cost of advertisements on electronic and print media must have been in multiples of the travel ones. And not a single paisa of that will be entered into the accounts of the candidates. Because all that would be shown as incurred by the respective parties. And there is no legal ceiling on that.

1.        I think some legal provision must be made so that Election Commission and also citizens be entitled to ask for the details of expenses incurred by the parties on election campaigning .They should also be entitled to know the sources of donations to various parties. In fact, the Right to Information Act must be made applicable to all registered political parties.

2. Political activists feel that amount of security deposit at the time of filing nomination is also beyond reach of many of them While enhancing that amount, an argument was advanced by some individuals that the number of independent candidates was increasing at a high rate. Preponderance of independent candidates entails great cost to the Election Commission. It also causes unnecessary confusion in the minds of the voters. It was felt that if the amount of security deposit be enhanced, it will serve as a restraining factor. Experience of the last ten-fifteen years belies that hope. For dedicated but poor activists, however, it has become a big stumbling block .Some via media will have to be devised. It may be suggested  that amount of deposit be reduced to five thousand rupees while number of proposers be increased to fifty or hundred so that an independent candidate will find it hard to rope in so many supporters.

3. In the interest of equity, some sort of State funding be made available to the candidates, sponsored by a registered political party,  of meager means,( say those whose annual income is less than one lakh rupees or so,) in the form of providing a facility , in the form of despatching by the State ,one appeal by the candidate of , say, 500 words to all the voters in his/her constituency. There will be no room for pilferage in this kind of arrangement. It may be recalled that, in the eighties of the last century, Inderjit Gupta committee had made recommendation for providing State funding to political parties,.

4. Recently, it has been observed that parties ruling at the Centre or a State, incur huge expenditure on advertisements which include pictures of ministers and/ or their leaders. This is unfair and unjustified from wider public interest. Objective of govt. advertisement can be to i8nvite tenders etc. or supplying information about specific scheme of the govt. to the targeted groups or general public. For that, mentioning name of the concerned officer would be enough. Putting in names of ministers or leaders and their pictures    is totally uncalled for.It is prudent to save that much public money.

5.No voter be allowed to contest from more than one constituencies. Expenses to be incurred on election to the vacated seat can thus be saved.

6. Most important point of electoral form is to amend the present first-past-the –post and embrace some variant of proportional representation. Today, many parties are denied any representation inspite of getting significant percentage vote in a given State or a number of States in Lok Sabha elections. Democracy can be strengthend by strengthening political parties who stgand for some ideology or set of policies and also can enforce  some discipline in the legislatures as well as public life in general.

Tarkunde Committeee in 1976, had made one suggestion which can serve as basis for discussion and further improvement. The suggestion was like this—There are 70 constituencies of Delhi State Assembly.  Voting may be held as per current system. At the time of counting, however, only those candidates who have polled more than fifty per cent of valid votes be declared as elected. Rest of the constituencies be taken as available for distribution between the parties in proportion to the votes polled by each party. Parties may be called to submit list of their candidates, to be nominated to the seats that would be allocated to that party for proportional representation. Such lists must be deposited with the Election Office before the election process  starts and cannot be amended after words. This will encourage  the parties to include such names in those lists which would help them  get more votes.

It may be noted that even small nations like Switzerland, Germany, Nepal, etc. have adopted this kind of PR and their experience is good.

India should take some innovative steps in this direction.

It may be stated that electoral reforms are not to be looked down upon as intellectual luxury of a few. Those reforms are necessary if genuine opinions and votes of the majority of the people are to be reflected in the composition of legislative bodies which are expected to address problems of the multitude and find out equitable solutions.

About the author

Pannalal Surana is a senior socialist leader and writer. At present he is the chairman, parliamentary board, Socialist Party (India)

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