Despite having a comprehensive model code of conduct, the Election Commission (EC) is unable to check electoral malpractices as it does not have the power to prosecute violators.
The maximum powers the code gives to the EC are to derecognise a political party. But, in the last decade, it has not exercised these powers either.
“We have taken whatever action we could under the code,” said a senior Election Commission official, who did not want to be named. “We don’t have the powers to debar a candidate from contesting for violating the code,” he added.
The model code of conduct, which comes into force from the time elections are announced and remains in force till the election process is over, was evolved on the basis of a consensus among political parties, but over time they have found ways to circumvent it.
Freebies to woo voters are strictly permitted, so parties announce them just before the code comes into force; campaigning starts much before the elections dates are announced, instead of the stipulated 45 days before polling and many a time it is on the basis of caste and religion, which is also prohibited.
Then, of course, there is the issue of slow implementation of the code. The EC does not have a dedicated wing to implement the code. And several times, action for the violation of the model code is taken after the elections are over.
Finally, the expenditure limits set by the EC are good only on paper. According to Election Commission estimates over `1,000 crore of black money was used in the assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. “We knew that money was being distributed in Tamil Nadu. We were not
able to take large-scale action as there were no complainants,” a senior EC official said.
DECODING THE MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT
With the announcement of poll dates for five states on Friday, the model code of conduct came into effect. What does it mean for parties, candidates and voters?
WHAT IS IT: A set of norms governing the conduct of political parties and candidates
IN FORCE FROM: Date of announcement of election schedule till elections are over
EC’s ROLE: To ensure code is followed for the sake of free, fair and peaceful polls
Activities that may aggravate existing differences or create hatred between different castes and communities
Criticising candidates on any aspect of their private lives not connected with public activities
Criticism based on unverified allegations or distortions
Utilising official visits for electioneering
Use of pilot car with beacon lights
Issuing self-promotional advertisements at the cost of the public exchequer
Sanctioning grants/payments out of discretionary funds
Announcing new government schemes; old ones can continue
Use of religious places for election propaganda
CHECKS AND BALANCES
Govt cannot transfer/give new postings to officials involved in election work without EC approval
Govt can grant parole to convicted criminals after consultation with the chief electoral officer
Parties/candidates can use govt aircraft/choppers for electioneering, but there should be no discrimination between the ruling party and the others; they will have to be paid for and proper records maintained
BRIBERY OF VOTERS
Distributing any item to voters having candidate’s picture or election symbol is prohibited
Consequences: A complaint can be filed before the area magistrate by the district administration
Assembly constituency expenditure range is `8 to `16 lakh per candidate. The amount depends on the size of the state. This rule comes into force from the time of filing of nominations