Election Act: Making EC redundant

The countdown to Constituent Assembly (CA) elections has already begun. The CA Members Election Act, 2007, has facilitated the Election Commission (EC) to go ahead with conducting the elections.

There will be elections for 480 seats under mixed electoral system, with 240 seats contested under both First-Past -the-Post (FPtP) system and List Proportional Representation (LPR) system. According to International IDEA, Sweden, 70 countries have adopted LPR system.

Interestingly, LPR system brings to use three kinds of lists — Closed, Open and Free. The majority of LPR systems use closed lists: The candidates of a party get elected in the order of priority fixed in the list, which is in direct proportion to the total national votes received. Voters cannot express their preferences in it. In Open list system, voters can indicate not just their favoured party but also their favoured candidates within the party. In Free list system, voters have as many votes as there are seats to be filled and can distribute them between candidates either within a single party or across several parties as they see fit.

Significantly, the CA Members Election Act, 2007 has accepted the Closed List system. But it has ignored the universal practice of political parties preparing list of the candidates on the basis of votes received. Of course, no two countries have the same electoral system and every country has to meet its own set of requirements.

To make the CA proportionate and inclusive, the Act, through Annxure-1, has categorised the names of different groups to be included in the closed lists by the parties contesting election as per percentage demarcated in the schedule, which, in turn, is in accordance with the percentage of the declared population of these groups in the last census. There are five categories where men and women have equal percentage. There are altogether 10 categories for nomination by the political parties. But remarkably, the total representation for women comes to 58%, not 50%.

Further, the Act stipulates different stages to be followed in course of election under Closed LPR. The first condition is sticking to annexure-I which bears the names of the groups which are to be included as per fixed quotas. If the EC finds inconsistencies in the lists, it will send those lists to the parties concerned for correction and the parties will resubmit the corrected lists to the EC within seven days.

After counting of votes garnered under LPR component, the political parties will again revise the existing lists as per the votes received for proportional election of their candidates. Accordingly, they will send their revised lists to the EC for final results. But the EC will again scrutinise the revised list. If it finds that the variations are not within 10 per cent limit, it will again write back to the parties to change the lists in order to meet the requirement within three days. Even if the revised lists are not proportionate as per the quota, it will announce the result as per the lists made available to it. The announced results will have to be communicated to the parties. There are some other limitations for the EC when only one candidate is to be elected.

Since political parties have been authorised by the Act to repeat the names of the candidates time and again, they cannot be made sincere in preparing the lists.

The EC has been deprived of its neutral role in conducting elections by having to declare the names of elected candidates as per the initial closed list on the one hand, and restricting any dirty game of the political parties in reshuffling the list to suit their interests, on the other. Thus, the CA Members Election Act, 2007 overlooked the conventional rights of the EC,

which has been reduced to the status of a post-office.

Again, the Act has bypassed the EC while approving the design of ballot papers. It is a technical issue involving several factors such as fixing the thickness of the borderlines between two symbols so that vote marks on margins

of ballot papers may not affect the percentage of invalid votes. Similarly, ballot papers are numbered in all democratic countries to ensure proper accounting and to prohibit misuse by polling officers. But the Election Act has provided for serial numbers only on the counter foils. The EC needed to take this issue seriously.

Ironically, for holding of a single day of polling, the government has decided to recruit 80,000 temporary police force as against 43,000 in 1991 and 1994 elections. Incidentally, the home

secretary in 1994 is the present Chief Election Commissioner.

Our previous experience shows that most of the newly recruited personnel would be party workers who would never be loyal to the job. For this reason, the 1999 general elections were held in two phases by doing away with the temporary police force recruitment.

Professor Mishra is former election commissioner