'One candidate, one seat' must be norm

'One candidate, one seat' must be norm

A very contested feature of the country's electoral system is the provision to allow a person to seek election from more than one parliamentary or assembly seat at the same time. Section 33(7) of the Representation of People Act, which allows simultaneous and multiple contests by a candidate, may have been formulated on the basis of the right of a citizen to represent the people in any part of the country. The citizens' freedom to move, live and work anywhere and the spirit of the Constitution, which allows the widest latitude for democratic rights, supported the provision. But it has been opposed for long on important grounds. If the candidate wins both the seats, one seat has to be vacated. This means an unfair rejection by the candidate of the people who voted for him, and a violation of the commitment made to the voters. An election is always a mutual agreement.

A re-election in the constituency means additional expenditure from the public exchequer, waste of time and effort on the part of the Election Commission and the official machinery and inconvenience and harassment caused to the voters. The Supreme Court is now hearing a private petition to strike down Section 33(7) on these grounds. The court has asked for the central government's response in the matter. The Election Commission has made it clear that it is against a candidate contesting multiple seats. The commission has taken this view for long. It had sought an amendment of the law to disallow multiple contests as part of a package of electoral reforms it proposed as early as 2004. The commission has also suggested that if the law is not amended, then the winning candidate should be made to bear the expenditure of the by-election caused by his forfeiture. The Law Commission has supported the EC's view.

But politicians naturally do not favour the scrapping of the provision. A parliamentary committee rejected the idea in1998. A number of senior leaders like Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi and Narendra Modi have contested from more than one constituency. The reasons include a political need to show wider acceptability or to make an impact in a different area or environment and the wish to win at least one seat in uncertain times. 'One candidate, one seat' must be the norm. The issues involved in an MP contesting for an assembly seat or an MLA contesting for a parliamentary seat are also similar to those involved in a candidate contesting for multiple assembly or parliament seats. The argument against multiple contests should, therefore, be extended to these cases, too, and an MP or MLA must be required to resign from that office before he or she is allowed to contest for an assembly or parliament seat.

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