Getting rid of unwanted bypolls

Getting rid of unwanted bypolls

Under normal circumstances, byelection is held due to the death of an elected member or resignation caused by a representative’s inability to perform prescribed duties.

By this definition, the state has witnessed 17 too many. Of late, not just in Karnataka but in many states across the country, byelections have been forced on the electorate for frivolous reasons often undermining the democratic process and distorting the mandate of a general election verdict.

Like many other Acts that requires a revision to keep pace with modernisation of our country, clause 150 of the Representation of People Act 1951 is outdated and requires much needed changes to stop the abuse of byelection process.

Operation Lotus

In the last decade byelection has been used to increase the numerical strength of a party in the Assembly or by the high command to impose a chief minister or by whimsical political leaders to prove their strength. Operation Lotus was used by the BJP in Karnataka to increase its number of MLAs while avoiding the provisions of anti-defection law. Just in the last six months, Prithivraj Chavan, Mamata Banerjee and Sadananda Gowda all made an exit from parliament to head their respective state governments.

Over the last several years, many leaders have gone from being a member of state assembly to being a member of parliament and vice versa thereby imposing an unwanted byelection on the electorate.

A change in the Representation of People Act is required to stop the exploitation of byelection process. The solution to bring stability to state assemblies is to strictly have an Assembly election once every five years. Byelection should be abolished. In case of resignation or death of an elected representative, the governor should be given the right to appoint a resident of that constituency to represent its interest in the Assembly.

The newly appointed member should not be allowed to vote in a no-confidence motion.

This is to ensure that people’s verdict in an Assembly election is respected and not subverted. If the Assembly is dissolved before the completion of a five year term, governor’s rule should be imposed for the remainder of the term rather than the current practice of holding an election within six months of dissolution. This will be an incentive for all MLAs to serve out a full term knowing that dissolution of the Assembly has the potential to send them into hibernation.

Enactment of such a law will plug the loopholes in the current system and ensure that state assemblies retain their original composition for an entire five year term.

Since elected representatives will lose the remainder of the term in case of resignation, it will be impossible to lure them with offer of money or cabinet position to change party affiliation. Opposition parties may not indulge in bringing down a government given that governor’s rule will be in place for rest of the term.

Further, it will prevent candidates from contesting an election from more than one constituency. The candidates will not venture into multiple contests if they have a prior knowledge of governor’s power to appoint a representative in case they need to relinquish a seat after winning. Also, a party high command will be unable to impose a chief minister after the party gains majority in an election as the leader will not have an opportunity to get elected to the Assembly.

Some may be opposed to the idea of entrusting additional power to the governor while others may argue that appointing MLAs is undemocratic.  The current sham of switching to another party by the MLAs is more potent in twisting people’s mandate.

It is a travesty to the voters if the system allows political parties to poach MLAs with offer of money and cabinet berths through an undemocratic process.  Imposing a cost on tax payers to conduct an election for self-serving purposes is an abuse of democratic privilege that needs to be ended in a hurry.

An amendment to the Tenth schedule that dictates elections strictly once every five years to state assemblies, abolishing byelection and empowering the governor to appoint a representative has the ability to retain the composition of the state Assembly for an entire term. If the experiment at the state level is found feasible, then the same could be repeated at the national level by giving the president the power to nominate a member of parliament.

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