Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: MCC
Mains level: Ensuring fair elections
- The Election Commission of India has announced dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with the country voting in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 and the with results on May 23.
- With this the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has come into effect and has called upon all parties to strictly adhere to the same.
- The code lays down a list of dos and don’ts for the political parties ahead of elections.
Model Code of Conduct
- It is a set of guidelines issued by ECI to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections.
- The rules range from issues related to speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, content of election manifestos, processions and general conduct, so that free and fair elections are conducted.
When does it come into effect?
- According to the PIB, a version of the MCC was first introduced in the state assembly elections in Kerala in 1960.
- It was largely followed by all parties in the 1962 elections and continued to be followed in subsequent general elections.
- In October 1979, the EC added a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage at the time of elections.
- The MCC comes into force from the date the election schedule is announced until the date that results are out.
Restrictions imposed under MCC
The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, the party in power, and election manifestos.
I. For Governments
- As soon as the code kicks in, the party in power whether at the Centre or in the States should ensure that it does not use its official position for campaigning.
- Hence, no policy, project or scheme can be announced that can influence the voting behaviour.
- The code also states that the ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.
- The ruling government cannot make any ad-hoc appointments in Government, Public Undertakings etc. which may influence the voters.
- Political parties or candidates can be criticised based only on their work record and no caste and communal sentiments can be used to lure voters.
II. For Political Parties
- The party must also avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.
- The ruling party also cannot use government transport or machinery for campaigning.
- It should also ensure that public places such as maidans etc., for holding election meetings, and facilities like the use of helipads are provided to the opposition parties on the same terms and conditions on which they are used by the party in power.
- Holding public meetings during the 48-hour period before the hour fixed for the closing of the poll is also prohibited.
- The 48-hour period is known as “election silence”.
- The idea is to allow a voter a campaign-free environment to reflect on events before casting her vote
- The issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in the newspapers and other media is also considered an offence.
- Mosques, Churches, Temples or any other places of worship should not be used for election propaganda. Bribing, intimidating or impersonation of voters is also barred.
Is it legally binding?
- The fact is the MCC evolved as part of the ECI’s drive to ensure free and fair elections and was the result of a consensus among major political parties.
- It has no statutory backing. Simply put, this means anybody breaching the MCC can’t be proceeded against under any clause of the Code..
- The EC uses moral sanction or censure for its enforcement.
What if violated?
- The ECI can issue a notice to a politician or a party for alleged breach of the MCC either on its own or on the basis of a complaint by another party or individual.
- Once a notice is issued, the person or party must reply in writing either accepting fault and tendering an unconditional apology or rebutting the allegation.
- In the latter case, if the person or party is found guilty subsequently, he/it can attract a written censure from the ECI — something that many see as a mere slap on the wrist.
- However, in extreme cases, like a candidate using money/liquor to influence votes or trying to divide voters in the name of religion or caste, the ECI can also order registration of a criminal case under IPC or IT Act.
- In case of a hate speech, a complaint can be filed under the IPC and CrPC; there are laws against the misuse of a religious place for seeking votes, etc.
Using powers under Art. 324
- The Commission rarely resorts to punitive action to enforce MCC, there is one recent example when unabated violations forced EC’s hand.
- During the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the EC had banned a leader and now party president from campaigning in order to prevent them from further vitiating the poll atmosphere with their speeches.
- The Commission resorted to its extraordinary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to impose the ban.
- It was only lifted once the leaders apologised and promised to operate within the Code.
What if given Statutory Backing?
- Both the ECI and several independent experts, believe that giving statutory backing to the MCC would only make the job of the Commission more difficult.
- This is because every alleged offence will then have to go to an appropriate court, and right up to the Supreme Court.
- Given the flaws of our legal system, election petitions filed decades ago are still pending before many High Courts — it is anybody’s guess what that situation might lead to.
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