From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Powers of Election Commission
Ever since the Allahabad High Court urged the Election Commission of India to consider banning all political rallies or postponing the upcoming Assembly elections due to the increasing threat of Omicron, the focus of debate has shifted to the EC.
Why and when does the Election Commission clubs the elections?
- To avoid the influence of result: As per practice, the EC clubs all elections that are so close to each other to ensure that the results in one state do not influence the voters in the state going to the polls soon after.
- Earliest date: The earliest due date of a state determines the poll dates for all the clubbed states.
- No delay allowed: The EC cannot delay an election even by a day, although it can advance it by up to six months.
- The Assembly elections of five states are due in the early months of 2022, four of these in March itself — Goa (by March 15), Manipur (March 19), Uttarakhand (March 23) and Punjab (March 27).
- The fifth — UP — is due by May 14.
- Goa being the earliest, we must have all five elections completed before March 15.
Why EC cannot postpone the elections?
- Violation of Constitution: Postponing elections is not in the Election Commission’s hands at all and would be a violation of the constitutional mandate that gives every Vidhan Sabha a fixed term.
- As soon as the term is over, the House stands dissolved automatically.
- The term of the House cannot be extended except in an emergency declared by Parliament, which the Constitution restricts to only two situations — war and breakdown of law and order.
- In the seven decades of our electoral history, this has happened only three times — in Assam, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir — in insurgency situations.
Way forward: Strict enforcement of guidelines
- Before the Bihar elections of 2020, the EC had issued detailed guidelines based on its observation of other countries that conducted elections that year, like South Korea and Sri Lanka.
- Reduction of the number of electors: These guidelines included the reduction of the number of electors per polling booth from 1,500 to 1,000, to prevent over-crowding, which required the addition of 33,797 auxiliary polling stations.
- Covid-sensitive capacity building: The guidelines also included Covid-sensitive capacity-building of election officials.
- Postal ballot option: The ECI also extended the postal ballot option to senior citizens over the age of 80, Covid-positive patients, persons with disabilities and voters in essential services.
- Virtual campaigning: Virtual campaigning was also encouraged to stop election rallies contributing to Covid.
- Besides the standard social distancing and sanitising norms, voters were provided with gloves to touch the EVMs.
- To avoid crowding at the counting centres, the counting tables were reduced from 14 to seven per assembly constituency.
Consider the question “What are the challenges in postponing the Assembly elections beyond the fixed terms of the Assembly? Suggest the way forward.”
This election is an opportunity for the EC to redeem its image. More importantly, it must guard itself against the trap of postponing the polls under any persuasion.