CPI(ML)’s Position on Electoral Reforms

Proportional Representation/ List System

- Dipankar Bhattacharya

We would welcome a change in the existing first- past-the-post system in favour of some sort of proportional representation or list system so that the electorate can exercise its choice primarily on the basis of political parties and their election manifestoes and the role of individual candidates with criminal antecedents who manage to win elections by unleashing a nefarious nexus of money-power and muscle-power can be minimized, if not eliminated altogether. The eligibility threshold for securing representation in Parliament or State Assemblies should be kept low enough so as not to prevent smaller parties from being represented.
Whether we switch over to a new system or continue with the existing system for some more time, there are some areas that call for urgent review and reform. Some of our major concerns and responses to the items or ideas suggested by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice are stated below.
Right to Recall
The recent disclosure of the cash-for-questions scam and large-scale misuse of public money in the local area development schemes run in the name of Members of Parliament has brought to the fore the need for empowering the electorate with the right to recall representatives who are found involved in cases of corruption, crime or anti-people activities.
Conditions for Candidature
Candidates may be prevented from contesting from more than one constituency. We however do not favour the idea of fixing some upper age limit for candidates. Declaration of assets and liabilities must be made compulsory and any candidate furnishing wrong information or hiding any important information should be liable to be disqualified even after getting elected. As for preventing candidates with criminal records, distinctions must be made between habitual offenders, professional criminals or history-sheeters and activists of people’s movements who may have been implicated in criminal cases filed by the state or by forces with various kinds of vested interests. While the former should be debarred, the latter must be allowed to contest elections till convicted by the highest court of the country.
Ceiling on Expenditure and Electoral Funding
To reduce the effect of money-power, ceiling on expenditure must be strictly enforced, and regardless of who incurs the expense, every expense incurred in favour of a candidate must be taken into account for this purpose. All clandestine foreign funding or corporate funding must be stopped and all donations must be within a certain limit. The use of helicopters for election campaigning must be restricted to only such constituencies as may not be accessible by any other means.
Every candidate must be supplied electoral rolls either free of cost or at nominal charges. Beyond the provision of free supply of electoral rolls and allotment of free air time for electoral canvassing through radio and television, there need not be any extension of state funding for parties contesting elections. The threshold for forfeiture of deposits may be lowered from the present level of one-sixth of total votes polled to ten percent or one-tenth.
Recognition of Political Parties and Allotment of Symbols
The criteria for recognition of political parties must be simplified. Any party securing either 2 per cent of total votes or 2 per cent seats in elections to a State Assembly should be accorded the status of a recognized party in the concerned state. Alternately, any party securing 2 per cent of total votes or one Lok Sabha seat from a state in a Lok Sabha election should also be eligible for state-level recognition. Any party which is recognized in at least four states and has at least two members in the Lok Sabha should be recognized as a national party. The symbol of a state party should automatically be reserved for the entire country and for all elections including panchayat and municipal polls.
Electoral Rolls and Polling Booths
The voting age should be lowered to sixteen years. Electoral rolls should be extensively updated every year and the names of migrant workers should not be struck off the rolls on grounds of physical absence at the time of verification. Special provisions should be made for such workers to not only retain their names but also cast their votes through postal ballots. Undertrial prisoners and handicapped voters should also be allowed the facility of postal ballots.
The number of polling booths should be increased to facilitate greater participation of the electorate in the electoral process. There should be one polling booth for every 500 to 800 voters. Special care should be taken to ensure that the polling booths for weaker sections of society are located in easily accessible areas so that they can exercise their voting right without fear or hindrance. Arrangements for mobile polling stations should also be made wherever necessary.
Compulsory Voting vis-à-vis Negative Voting
A choice for negative voting may be included in ballots or voting machines so that voters who would not like to support any of the available candidates may so indicate. But we do not support the idea of compelling voters to cast their votes. We also do not approve of any idea to amend the Representation of People Act to ensure that a candidate is declared elected only if he gets fifty per cent or more of the votes polled. Such an artificial system would essentially limit the choice of the electorate to only two parties or candidates and is therefore inconsistent with the basic premise of a multiparty democracy.
Anti Defection Law
The earlier anti-defection law or the present provision for post-poll merger between two parties both suffer from one major defect. It legitimizes the act of party hopping by elected representatives without any approval of the electorate. In the event of any elected representative quitting the party on which he had got elected, it must be made mandatory for the said representative to first resign and seek re-election.
No-Confidence Motion
The present procedure of no-confidence motion should continue. Any insistence on a prior affirmative expression of confidence in a new council of ministers headed by a new Prime Minister or Chief Minister would amount to putting the cart before the horse. Such a system may only help linger the tenure of a government which has lost majority at the house and that would defeat the very basis of parliamentary democracy.
Reservation for Women
The promised reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies must immediately be enacted and enforced without any delay, diversion or dilution. Like in panchayats, reservations must first be introduced and further modifications in the system may be made later.
Opinion and Exit Polls
Opinion or exit polls should not be allowed to be used as an instrument for manufacturing public opinion or manipulating voter preferences. Once elections are notified and the campaign begins, no opinion polls should therefore be allowed to be carried out or published. Similarly, in a staggered or multi-phase election, exit polls must not be allowed in the middle. Exit poll findings should be made public only after the final vote has been cast.
Inner-party Elections and Auditing of Accounts
While the Election Commission should be kept posted with the latest developments concerning elections of committees or office-bearers in every registered political party, there should be no interference in the internal affairs of a party. Every party has its own programme and constitution and must be left free to pursue them. There cannot be uniform criteria of inner-party elections for different parties.
Political parties usually do not have a centralized establishment like business organizations, nor are they expected to be profit-making enterprises. Any system of centralized auditing of accounts is therefore unlikely to be effective in the case of political parties with units in different states and structures going down to block and panchayat levels. Like election time accounts, parties may be asked to submit accounts on certain specific heads.