In a parliamentary democracy like India, Good Governance is the prime responsibility but is this actually a possibility given the continued election mode our country is always in, is a question which needs assessment. The citizens, the political parties and the Election Commission are the key stakeholders in the process of decision-making and thus, it is imperative to examine this issue from the eyes of each of these.
A citizen always finds herself entangled between voting for the Lok Sabha elections to the State elections and then to the elections to the Local Bodies. Political parties which are elected at either of these levels quickly seem to move to the next level to promote their party without having the time to initiate development work at the level they were elected for. The Election Commission is consistently in need of security forces, EVMs and VVPATs owing to this never-ending election mode.
The first simultaneous General Elections in India were held in 1951-52. This resumed till 1967. However, in the subsequent years this pattern got disrupted owing to the premature dissolution of a few State Legislative Assemblies and then the Lok Sabha in 1970. The Law Commission[i] has supported the idea of simultaneous elections and has suggested reverting back to the old pattern which would require certain Constitutional Amendments in the present scenario.
The idea of simultaneous elections rests on the principle of efficiency in governance and it would lead to more development work and at the same time the expenditure incurred by both the Election Commission and the political parties would be reduced. In addition to the financial burden, the burden of manpower will be reduced.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee[ii] noted that it will benefit to curb the ‘policy paralysis’ owing to the Model Code of Conduct. The interruption of civic life with political demonstrations and the increase in casteism and communal divide due to vote-bank politics would be curbed along with a possibility of an increase in voter turnout if elections are held together.
Article 83(2) and Article 172 of the Constitution requires that the Lok Sabha and State legislatures be in existence for five years from the date of its first meeting, “unless dissolved earlier”. Thus, the central issue is that the process will require Amendments to these provisions which would lead to extension/curtailment of the tenure of State Legislative Assemblies and the ongoing debate is that this goes against the Federal spirit of the Constitution.
Secondly, if voting takes place together many state issues might get eclipsed in national issues. The issues pertaining to local state problems regarding Health, Education vis-à-vis that particular State will have to compete with National Security, Foreign Policy challenges. The latter is bound to be prioritized over the former.
A study by the IDFC Institute[iii] found “a 77% chance that the winning political party or alliance will win both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in that state when held simultaneously” Thus, a consequence of this is a dominance of one/two major political parties and erosion of regional political parties.
A major aspect of representative democracy can be seen when elections are held consistently, the link between the citizens and the representative remains intact. It acts as a feedback apparatus to the political parties and ensures accountability on the executive. However, a system of recall can be a better solution to safeguard responsibility for conducting frequent elections.
Further, in order to retract to the old system, one must resolve the major anomaly associated with it which is the issue of premature dissolution of Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies. The Law Commission[iv] has suggested the concept of ‘constructive vote of confidence while stating loss of trust in one government, members should repose confidence in an alternative government. Additionally, when mid-term polls are held due to loss of majority, the successive legislature should serve out only the remainder of the term.
The basic need of any democracy is stability in governance with transparency and accountability. Any changes in the current regime are bound to create disruptions but the need for an alternative is justified so long as to preserve democracy itself. The alternative must be discussed and debated with every stakeholder until a consensus is reached on the viability of the alternative. If at all the proposed structure does not seem feasible, a middle ground should be taken to overhaul the present structure and at the same time to move ahead with the changing times. Thus, if simultaneous elections cannot be conducted, then all elections falling in the same calendar year should be conducted together.
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