Focus on reforms

The government has clarified that it has no plan to give statutory status to the model code of conduct during elections but it has not removed all apprehensions.

The government actually had a proposal before it as seen from the agenda papers of a Group of Ministers meeting and it may have made a retreat in the wake of the strong opposition it has invited. The move would have only weakened the Election Commission and the government’s move was in line with the recent record of defiance of the commission by some senior members of the cabinet. It also conforms to the government’s lackadaisical attitude to electoral reforms which are badly needed to make elections in the country completely free of the influence of money and muscle power.

The Election Commission, with all the limitation, has done a good job of conducting free and fair elections. It had recently proposed a host of reforms which would make it difficult for criminals to contest and win elections. According to reports, about a third of the candidates in the ongoing state Assembly elections have a criminal record. In spite of preventive steps taken by the commission money plays an important role in elections. The commission had suggested that persons facing chargesheets for serious offences should be debarred from contesting polls and there should be proper financial scrutiny of spending by parties and candidates. The government had promised an electoral reforms bill which is yet to be presented to Parliament.

The commission has expressed its disappointment over the failure of the government. While the government has, through its non-action,  shown that it is not interested in improving the electoral system, it is making subtle attempts to undermine the system by reducing the powers of the commission.

If enforcement of the model code of conduct is taken out of the purview of the Election Commission it will have to remain a helpless observer of the violations. The code has a moral sanction now and the commission actively intervenes in cases of violation. If this power is shifted to courts it will mean a prolonged legal process which will only help the violators to get way with their offences. Instead of effectively scuttling the code, what is needed is to strengthen it within the ambit of powers of the commission. This should be part of an effort to improve the system by cleansing it of the power of money and crime. 

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