The chapter notes explain how representatives are elected. Additionally, we explain why elections are important and beneficial in a democratic society. The notes expand on how electoral rivalry between parties benefits the public and enables students to discern between democratic and non-democratic elections.
What is an ‘Election’?
The mechanism by which people can choose their representatives at regular intervals and change them if they wish to do so is called election.
In a democratic election, an electoral roll is prepared which consists of those who are eligible to vote. The list is also called ‘Voters List’.
Assembly Election in Haryana
In 1987, the state of Haryana had been ruled by a congress party led government since 1982. A movement in the opposition called ‘Nyaya Yudh’ was also running under the leadership of an opposition leader, Chaudhary Devi Lal.
The movement led to the formation of a new party called ‘Lok Dal’. The ruling party then had a front against it in the elections, with the merger of the Lok dal & other opposition parties.
Devi Lal made a statement during his election campaign, that if his party won the elections, his government would waive the loans of farmers and small businessmen. He promised that this would be the first action of his government.
The people were unhappy with the existing government. They were also attracted by Devi Lal’ s promise. As in the elections, they voted overwhelmingly in favour of Lok Dal and its allies.
Lok Dal and its partners won 76 out of 90 seats in the State Assembly. Lok Dal alone won 60 seats and thus had a clear majority in the Assembly. The Congress could win only 5 seats also the Chief Minister of the state resigned.
Hence, Devi Lal was chosen as the leader by the newly elected Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of Lok Dal chose Devi Lal as their leader. Therefore, Devi Lal became the new Chief Minister three days after the declaration of the result. As soon as he came in power his Government issued a memorandum waiving the outstanding loans of small farmers, agricultural labourers and small businessmen.
Lok Dal remained in power for the next four years but did not manage to win the 1991 elections, though congress formed the government.
Why do we need elections?
Many democracies conduct elections to enable people to choose their own representatives. The very fact is that in any democratic country, all citizens neither have the time nor the knowledge to participate in the law-making process. Also, the large population numbers makes it impossible for the people to frame laws for themselves.
An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. As elections are essential and in an election the voters make many choices:
● They can choose who will make laws for them.
● They can choose who will form the government and take major decisions.
● They can choose the party whose policies will guide the government and law making.
What makes an election democratic?
Features of Democratic Elections
Everyone should be able to choose and everyone should have one vote and every vote should have equal value.
Parties and candidates should be free to contest elections and should offer some real choice to the voters.
The choice should be offered at regular intervals. Elections must be held regularly after every few years.
The candidate preferred by the people should get elected.
Elections should be conducted in a free and fair manner where people can choose as they really wish.
What do we understand by the term ‘Political Competition’?
Political Competition is for political power also for the ability to shape and control the content and direction of public policy-rivalry for the capacity to influence or determine official governmental decision making and action on questions of public policy.
Merits of Political Competition
● It creates competition among parties to serve the people better.
● People will have a lot of options among various leaders.
● People can select a particular leader who can solve their problem.
● Political Competition mostly benefits the people as parties will do their best to lure the people.
● A healthy Political Competition leads to the development of the nation.
● At the constituency level, it takes the form of competition among several candidates. If there is no competition, elections will become pointless.
Demerits of Political Competition
● It creates a sense of disunity and ‘factionalism’ in every locality. Different political parties and leaders often level allegations against one another.
● Parties can even bribe the people with money or snacks for vote.
● Parties and candidates often use dirty tricks to win elections.
● This pressure to win electoral fights does not allow sensible long-term policies to be formulated.
● This unhealthy competition restricts many good leaders from entering the political arena.
● Political leaders all over the world, like all other professionals, are motivated by a desire to advance their political careers.
● They want to remain in power or get power and positions for themselves. They may wish to serve the people as well which becomes risky to depend entirely on their sense of duty.
● Besides, even when they wish to serve the people, they may not know what is required to do so, or their ideas may not match what the people really want.
● To deal with this real life situation is to try and improve the knowledge and character of political leaders. The other way is to set up a system where political leaders are rewarded for serving the people and punished for not doing so.
● The reward and punishment shall be decided by the people. This is what electoral competition does. Regular electoral competition provides incentives to political parties and leaders.
● They know that if they raise issues that people want to be raised, their popularity and chances of victory will increase in the next elections and if they fail to satisfy the voters with their work they will not be able to win again.
What system of election is being followed in India?
● In India after every Five Years Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha (Assembly) elections are held.
● The Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha stands ‘dissolved’. Elections are held in all constituencies at the same time, either on the same day or within a few days. This is called a general election.
● The elections held only for one constituency to fill the vacancy caused by death or resignation of a member is called a by-election.
The country is divided into different areas, these areas are called electoral constituencies. There are 543 constituencies in India. The voters who live in an area elect one representative.
The representative elected from each constituency is called a Member of Parliament or an MP.
One of the features of a democratic election is that every vote should have equal value. That is why our Constitution requires that each constituency should have a roughly equal population living within it.
Similarly, each state is divided into a specific number of Assembly constituencies. Here the elected representative is called the Member of Legislative Assembly or an MLA.
Each Parliamentary constituency has within it several assembly constituencies. The same principle applies for Panchayat and Municipal elections.
Each village or town is divided into several ‘wards’ that are like constituencies. Each ward elects one member of the village or the urban local body.
Sometimes these constituencies are counted as ‘seats’, for each constituency represents one seat in the assembly. E. g (If ‘Lok Dal won 60 seats’ in Haryana, it means that candidates of Lok Dal won in 60 assembly constituencies in the state and thus Lok Dal had 60 MLAs in the state assembly.)
Reservation of Seats and Constituencies
● The Constitution of India entitles every citizen to elect her/his representative and to be elected as a representative.
● There is also a special system of reserved constituencies for the weaker section of the society to make open electoral competition balanced.
● Some Constituencies are reserved for people who belong to the Scheduled Castes [SC] and Scheduled Tribes [ST].
● In a SC reserved constituency only someone who belongs to the Scheduled Castes can stand for election. Only those belonging to the Scheduled Tribes can contest an election from a constituency reserved for ST.
● In the Lok Sabha, 84 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and 47 for the Scheduled Tribes.
● Thus the reserved seats for SC and ST do not take away the legitimate share of any other social group. This system of reservation was extended later to other weaker sections at the district and local level.
● In many states, seats in rural (panchayat) and urban (municipalities and corporations) local bodies are now reserved for Other Backward Classes (OBC) as well.
● The proportion of seats reserved varies from state to state. One-third of the seats are reserved in rural and urban local bodies for women candidates.
In a democratic election, the list of those who are eligible to vote is prepared much before the election and given to everyone. This list is officially called the Electoral Roll and is commonly known as the Voters’ List
● Once the constituencies are decided, the next step is to prepare an electoral roll.
● This is an important step for it is linked to the first condition of a democratic election: everyone should get an equal opportunity to choose representatives.
● There are diverse groups or sections of people who are eligible to vote and all of them has an equal opportunity to vote.
● All the citizens aged 18 years and above can vote in an election.
● Every citizen has the right to vote, regardless of his or her caste, religion or gender. (Some criminals and persons with unsound mind can be denied the right to vote, but only in rare situations.)
● It is the responsibility of the government to get the names of all the eligible voters put on the voters’ list.
● Addition and elimination of the names takes place in the making of Voters list
● As new persons attain voting age names are added to the voters’ list, names of those who move out of a place or those who are dead are deleted.
● A complete revision of the list takes place every five years to ensure that it remains up to date.
● A new system of Election Photo Identity Cards [EPIC] has also been introduced.
● The government has tried to give this card to every person on the voters list. The voters are required to carry this card when they go out to vote, so that no one can vote for someone else.
● The card is not yet compulsory for voting. For voting, the voters can show many other proofs of identity like the ration card or the driving licence.
Nomination of the Candidates
● In India there are almost no restrictions for a candidate to contest elections. Anyone who can be a voter can also become a candidate in elections.
● In order to be a candidate the minimum age is 25 years, while it is only 18 years for being a voter.
● Restrictions on criminals are also there but these apply in very extreme cases.
● Political parties nominate their candidates who get the party symbol and support.
● Party’s nomination is often called a party ‘ticket’.
● Every person who wishes to contest an election has to fill a ‘nomination form’ and give some money as ‘security deposit’.
● The Supreme Court. Ordered to Introduce a new system of Declaration which has to be made public and voters are provided with an opportunity to make this decision accordingly.
Every candidate has to make a legal declaration, giving full details of -
● Serious criminal cases pending against the candidate.
● Details of the assets and liabilities of the candidate and his or her family.
● Education qualifications of the candidate.
What is an Election Campaign? What are the rules to execute one?
● The Election campaigns take place for a two-week period between the announcement of the final list of candidates and the date of polling.
● During this period the candidates contact their voters, political leaders address election meetings and political parties mobilise their supporters.
● This is also the period when newspapers and television news are full of election related stories and debates.
● The election campaign is not limited to only two weeks. Political parties start preparing for elections months before they actually take place. In election campaigns, political parties try to focus public attention on some big issues.
● They want to attract the public to that issue and get them to vote for their party on that basis.
Lok Sabha Elections 1971: The Congress party led by Indira Gandhi gave the slogan of Garibi Hatao (Remove poverty). The party promised to reorient all the policies of the government to remove poverty from the country.
Lok Sabha Elections 1977: The Janata Party in the past gave the slogan Save democracy. The party promised to undo the excesses committed during the Emergency and restore civil liberties.
● The Left Front used the slogan of Land to the Tiller in the West Bengal Assembly elections held in 1977.
● N. T. Rama Rao, the leader of the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections in 1983 used the slogan ‘Protect the Self-Respect of the Telugus’.
● It is necessary to regulate campaigns to ensure that every political party and candidate gets a fair and equal chance to compete.
● No party or candidate can Bribe or threaten voters according to the law or appeal to them in the name of caste or religion.
● Restriction on the use of government resources for election campaigns and no one can spend more than Rs. 25 lakh in a constituency for a Lok Sabha election or Rs. 10 lakh in a constituency in an Assembly election.
● If they do so, their election can be rejected by the court even after they have been declared elected.
● All the political parties in our country have agreed to a Model Code of Conduct for election campaigns.
According to this, no party or candidate can:
● Use any place of worship for election propaganda
● Use government vehicles, aircrafts and officials for elections, -
● Once elections are announced, Ministers shall not lay foundation stones of any projects, take any big policy decisions or make any promises of providing public facilities.
Polling and Counting of votes
● The election day is when the voters cast or ‘poll’ their vote. Every person whose name is on the voters’ list goes to a nearby ‘polling booth’, situated usually in a local school or a government office.
● Once the voter goes inside the booth, the election officials identify her, put a mark on her finger and allow her to cast her vote.
● An agent of each candidate is allowed to sit inside the polling booth and ensure that the voting takes place in a fair way.
● Earlier the voters used to cast their vote by putting a stamp on the ballot paper. A ballot paper is a sheet of paper on which the names of the contesting candidates along with party name and symbols are listed.
● Now Electronic voting machines (EVM) are used to record votes. The machine shows the names of the candidates and the party symbols. Independent candidates too have their own symbols, allotted by election officials.
● Once the polling is over, all the EVMs are sealed and taken to a secure place. A few days later, on a fixed date, all the EVMs from a constituency are opened and the votes secured by each candidate are counted.
● The candidate who secures the highest number of votes from a constituency is declared elected.
● In a general election, usually the counting of votes in all the constituencies takes place at the same time, on the same day.
● Television channels, radio and newspapers report this event. Within a few hours of counting, all the results are declared.
Unfair Practices in the Elections
● Inclusion of false names and exclusion of genuine names in the voters’ list.
● Misuse of government facilities and officials by the ruling party.
● Excessive use of money by rich candidates and big parties.
● Intimidation of voters and rigging on the polling day.
Independent Election Commission
● The Elections are conducted by an independent and very powerful Election Commission (EC).
● EC enjoys the same kind of independence that the judiciary enjoys. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is appointed by the President of India.
● The Chief Election Commissioner is not answerable to the President or the government. Even if the ruling party or the government does not like what the Commission does, it is virtually impossible for it to remove the CEC.
● EC takes decisions on every aspect of conduct and control of elections from the announcement of elections to the declaration of results. It implements the Code of Conduct and punishes any candidate or party that violates it.
● The EC can also order the government to follow some guidelines, to prevent use and misuse of governmental power to enhance its chances to win elections, or to transfer some government officials.
● On election duty, government officers work under the control of the EC and not the government.
● In the last fifteen years, the Election Commission has begun to exercise all its powers and even expand them.
● The Election Commission can also reprimand the government and administration for their lapses.
● Election officials order a re-poll if it comes to the opinion that polling was not fair in some booths or even an entire constituency.
● This would not have happened if the EC was not independent and powerful.
● If the election process is not free or fair, people will not continue to participate in the exercise.
● People’s participation in elections is usually measured by voter turnout figures. Turnout indicates the percent of eligible voters who actually cast their vote. Over the last fifty years, the turnout in Europe and North America has declined.
● In India the turnout has either remained stable or actually gone up.
● In Contrast to the western democracies in India the poor, illiterate and underprivileged people vote in larger proportion as compared to the rich and privileged sections.
● The United States of America, poor people, African Americans and Hispanics vote much less than the rich and the white people.
● A lot of importance to elections is attached by common people in India. They feel that through elections they can bring pressure on political parties to adopt policies and programmes favourable to them.
● The interest of voters in election related activities has been increasing over the years. During the 2004 elections, more than one third voters took part in campaign-related activities.
Acceptance of Election Outcome
One final test of the free and fairness of election is in the outcome itself.
● The Outcome will always be in favour of Powerful if elections are not free and fair and the ruling party will never lose. The outcome of India’s elections speaks for itself.
● The ruling parties routinely lose elections in India both at the national and state level. In fact in every two out of the three elections held in the last fifteen years, the ruling party lost.
● In India about half of the sitting MPs or MLAs lose elections. Candidates who are known to have spent a lot of money on ‘buying votes’ and those with known criminal connections often lose elections.
● The electoral outcomes are usually accepted as ‘people’s verdict’ by the defeated party.
What are the challenges to free and fair elections?
● Elections in India are basically free and fair. The party that wins an election and forms government does so because people have chosen it over its rivals.
● A few candidates may win purely on the basis of money power and unfair means. But the overall verdict of a general election still reflects popular preference.
● Candidates and parties with a lot of money may not be sure of their victory but they do enjoy a big and unfair advantage over smaller parties and independents.
● In some parts of the country, candidates with criminal connections have been able to push others out of the electoral race and to secure a ‘ticket’ from major parties.
● Political parties are also dominated by some families as tickets are distributed to relatives from these families. Smaller parties and independent candidates suffer a huge disadvantage compared to bigger parties