iconimg Friday, August 28, 2015

Chetan Chauhan , Hindustan Times
New Delhi, August 05, 2013
The Election Commission wants to regulate the freebies being offered by the political parties through their election manifestos and said such offers may disturb the electoral level playing field. The Supreme Court had asked the commission to formulate a separate set of guidelines for election manifestos as part of its model code of conduct for political parties.

The court has brought the manifestos released before the election process starts under the code.

In a note circulated to political parties last Friday, the commission said a new trend has started by some political parties to promise items commonly called “freebies”.

The commission defined freebie as something given free of charge and may be aimed at targeted groups of electorate such as below poverty line families and weaker sections of society.

Parties have offered homes, laptops, television sets and grinders to voters in their manifestos and its implementation had been a huge burden on scarce financial resources of the states.

“The way freebies are being offered it shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree and vitiates the electoral process. We agree with Supreme Court that there has to be some restrictions on what the manifestos offer to provide level playing field for those contesting elections,” a senior commission functionary said.

The note talks about one such restriction in form of a “reasonable window” before the announcement of the election for the parties to release their manifestos.

Another would be that certain promises not aimed at social empowerment should be considered as a freebie to disturb the level playing field.

To prepare a comprehensive background note for discussion manifesto regulation with parties on August 12 the commission sought views from election management bodies of 30 countries and got response from eight.

In Bhutan and Mexico, electoral authorities have power to vet manifestos and get certain types of content removed.

In United Kingdom, the election body issue guidelines for manifestos. However, in major democracies like United States, Sweden, Canada, Netherlands and Austria, the election authorities have no role in relation to manifestos.

The note also says that the party manifestos have offered making quality education affordable to everyone, waiving of agricultural loans, pensions to aged and helpless and medical cover for specified categories of people such as widows, old age pensions and farmers.