The Election Commission will be unrelenting in its pursuit of electoral reforms despite the Centre’s rejection of its two key demands, the poll panel’s chief Nasim Zaidi has said.
The government had recently rejected the Commission’s demands for ‘totaliser’ machines to deny political parties access to booth level voting patterns, and for powers to countermand polls in case of voter bribery.
“We are pursuing this. It’s not a question of seeking more powers but ensuring more fairness in elections. We have only two elements—free and fair elections,” chief election commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi said in an interview to HT.
On the countermanding of polls, he said the government’s reason for disagreeing is that bribery is a matter of investigation.
“We say, so is booth capturing. We say we countermand elections for booth capturing only on the basis of the report of the returning officers and observers. Similarly, we will also countermand elections for bribing voters if we have the reports and reliable evidence,” Zaidi said.
The chief election commissioner has also ruffled feathers by taking on political bigwigs, issuing notices for model code violations to defence minister Manohar Parrikar and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal during the ongoing assembly elections.
Under attack from the political class, Zaidi reiterated his demand for collegium system for the appointment of CEC and other election commissioners.
“If all political parties are not on board in the selection of election commissioners…there will always be an issue. There might be concerns that ‘A’ has been appointed by a particular party, etc.
“If the opposition is also taken into confidence in the selection of election commissioners, nobody can say that the party does not have faith in A, B or C,” he said.
Zaidi however said that the present system has worked well and that all the “CECs appointed earlier worked according to legal and constitutional provisions in a neutral way”.
The EC has a long list of recommendations awaiting the Centre’s nod. These include steps to increase transparency in political funding, making bribery a cognisable offence and disallowing candidates accused of heinous crimes, against whom charges have been framed, from contesting elections.
Incidentally, the government had not taken the EC into confidence before announcing the introduction of electoral bonds. The CEC refused to comment on this, saying he was yet to hear from the government on this issue.
Another electoral reform being pushed by the EC is to get candidates to disclose the source of their income that they mention in their affidavits. The suggestion has been turned down by political parties who want only candidates’ assets and liabilities in the public domain.
The political class is also resisting the attempt to introduce totalisers that can hide voting patterns.
Pushing for a totaliser machine, Zaidi said, “At the booth level, voting pattern is known and it is used to intimidate people… What we want is: our technology will mix data from 16 machines (so as not to reveal voting pattern).”
To the government’s stance that the technology will cause inconvenience to political parties for booth management, he said, “…Protection of our voters, secrecy of our votes must receive precedence over convenience.”