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Staggered phase elections push country in poll mode

Saturday, January 07, 2017
By Prakash Bal Joshi

With the state assembly election for five states including Uttar Pradesh will be held in staggered phases, the country will remain in election mode for two months with all media glare discussing every aspect of electoral battle.

Though grudgingly, almost everybody will be touched one way or the other though one may not be actually casting vote in these elections considered as mini-general elections as these states are actually from four corners of the country. Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are going to polls and have chequered political equations of their own.

It is not going to be a verdict on Narendra Modi government as each and every state has its own issues of development and different socio-political equations. However, one thing is certain, it is going to be a sort of a test for gauging the Modi popularity among floating voters who gave massive mandate in favour of Nationalist Democratic Alliance led by Narendra Modi in 2014. This is going to be first elections after demonetisation of high value notes affecting everybody from all walks of life. How would large number of voters who are not politically inclined but vote on the issue of the day will react to their experience of hardship during the 50-days of wait for things to improve. Are these voters with Modi with his hard-hitting drive to unearth black money and support him for the unprecedented step of demonetisation of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes? No wonder all these and many more issues will be dominating the debate along with political fortunes of many major parties vying with each other in the battle to dominate.

Prequel for 2019 general elections?
Apart from dust and din created over these crucial elections as they would certainly be counted as trend setters for next general elections scheduled in year 2019. Reams have been written about mammoth electoral process undertaken to keep democracy going in India. The system has been evolving with the improving technology related with voting process and vast population more than half of it deprived of formal education are coping with the changes being made in the system.

However, the phased manner in which elections are held really put governance system under lots of pressure, code of conduct come into play and create special situation where government administrative machinery goes into limbo and affects the decision making and decision implementation processes.

It is high time, the election commission, the union government, political parties and political leaders think about the way elections are held in number of phases creating peculiar situation. The decision to hold phased elections in a given state or if it is general elections then in different regions of the country has been taken in view of law and order situation. If elections are held in single phase in so many states, then it is not possible to make adequate arrangements for voting in peaceful and free manner as anti-social elements take charge to influence voters by offering goodies or putting fear into their minds. Over the years this has also created a situation where party workers keep on going from constituencies where voting takes place and move from one region to another heating the atmosphere much higher degree. If elections are held in one phase, then there is no chance for political supporters to travel from one constituency to another pinning them down to their own home constituency.

It also creates a situation where voting machines have to be stored in secure place till the entire process of voting is over. The election commission has stopped agencies and news channels and other media from publishing results of exit poll till all the phases of elections are over. Announcing results of exit poll of one phase is bound to influence remaining phases. In fact, entire state is held “statue” state of frozen state till all the voting phases are over.

There has to be debate and effort to find salutation to reduce number of phases being allowed now. Ideally, the elections should be held simultaneously, if it is not possible for one or the other reason than the number of phases should be restricted to three. There is need for wider consultations among experts, administrators and political parties to reduce number of phases affecting state administration for over two months. As red tapism is not new to us, the code of conduct further provides an excuse to lethargic bureaucracy to further delay taking and implementing decisions related with general administration

There is not a single day in a year when there is not one or the other election going in some corner of the country. There are elections to the Rajya Sabha, to the state legislative councils, Zillah parishads, municipal corporations and municipal councils, to provide local self-government. In states, state election commissions have been set up to supervise elections held for the local self-government bodies. So, it is really difficult to deal with such situation.

There is also need to synchronise elections to the Lok Sabha with elections of the state legislative assemblies reducing the need to go into poll mode every now and then. We had begun with simultaneous elections to the parliament as well as the state legislative assemblies, but with the mid-term polls, suspension of state assemblies for different reasons, each and every state legislative assembly has its own schedule of five-year term.

Consensus needed for simultaneous elections
Take case of these five-state going to poll. The elections in Punjab and Goa will be held on 4 February, but results will be announced in the month of March since elections in other states will end only in March. So as a result, the chief ministers in these two states will continue as care taker chief ministers without any powers.These state governments will remain in limbo till the entire election process for five states is over. The logic for such delay is that if results in one state are declared it will influence voting pattern in other states. It is time these issues are tackled properly to avoid confusion and administration paralysis.

In the days of paper ballot, lots of violence used to take place at booths to capture them and stamp ballot papers. However, with the advancement of technology being used for voting machine and counting lots of simplification and transparency has been brought in to process by successive election commissioners since Seshan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been talking about electoral reforms to take note of undue influence of money and muscle power during the elections. He has also been suggesting that the way elections are held for state assemblies almost every year without a break should be changed and elections to the Parliament and the state legislative assemblies be held simultaneously. The issue cannot be tackled single handed either by the election commission nor by the Prime Minister alone. The issue needs to be discussed thoroughly by the constitutional experts, election commission officials who actually conducts these elections, political parties which are directly involved in the process and political leaders before any conclusion is drawn.  

Even if there is consensus over holding simultaneously, it is not simple solution as it is going to be difficult to achieve the goal. There will be states where their five-year term will have to be curtailed to hold elections simultaneously with the Parliament. No party in power in that particular state will like its tenure being curtailed. Despite such difficulties, the issue should be settled as early as possible.

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