The law ministry’s rejection of the Election Commission’s proposal seeking powers to cancel elections if voters are bribed reflects the political class’s opposition to any qualitative change in the electoral system. That the electoral system is not perfect and needs change is a widely accepted fact. But unfortunately successive governments — irrespective of their ideology — have chosen to ignore the issue of electoral reforms. This is not the first time that the government or political parties have rejected such a proposal. Many of the reforms — including those on decriminalisation of politics — suggested by the Election Commission almost two decades ago are still hanging fire. Way back in 1998, it had made a proposal for disqualifying (from contesting election) a person against whom charges have been framed by a Court for an offence punishable by imprisonment of five years or more. The proposal was reiterated in November 1999, July 2004 and October 2006, but to no avail.
The case of political parties’ reforms is similar. The EC has been suggesting that legal provisions should be made to regulate the functioning of political parties and it should be empowered to regulate the registration as well as de-registration of political parties. It had also demanded that political parties should be legally required to get their accounts audited annually. The audited accounts should be put in the public domain. There should be transparency in the fund raising and expenditure of political parties. In its 255th report, submitted to the government in March 2015, the Law Commission had recommended that political parties failing to hold internal elections in accordance with its constitution should be de-registered. Demanding powers to enforce internal democracy in political parties, the commission recommended wide-ranging changes in the Representation of People Act, 1951, to ensure this and also to make their funding transparent. Often criticised for judicial overreach, the Supreme Court has done a commendable job on this front in the last 15 years. Be it making mandatory for candidates to declare their assets, liabilities, educational qualifications and criminal antecedents or immediate disqualification of lawmakers on conviction or giving the NOTA option to voters, the top court has enforced many such electoral reforms.
However, political parties continue to oppose such moves, including the implementation of RTI. They need to understand that the profile of the average voter is changing very fast. If they overlook the need for change, they run the risk of going against the aspirations of the people and it is in their own enlightened self-interest to clean up their act.