The Election Commission (EC) is likely to ask the government to ban opinion polls a fortnight before elections to ensure a level playing field for all candidates in the fray.
The government’s bid to ban opinion polls through the election watchdog had created a political storm with the BJP and some other parties likening it to curbs on freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
The EC is expected to submit to the government this week its opinion formed after going through the feedback of various political parties on the issue. It would be seeking restrictions on opinion polls as done for exit polls that are allowed only after the polling ends in all phases.
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It was learnt that many parties had emphasised opinion polls can be banned from the day of notification of elections or a fortnight before the polling if not from the day elections are announced.
But while putting across its view, the EC would make it clear amending Representation of People’s Act to ban opinion polls would be the government’s call.
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Unlike bringing social media under EC scanner, the ban on opinion polls cannot be implemented through an executive order. The reason is that the Supreme Court had nullified a ban on opinion polls in 1998 saying the EC does not have powers to impose such restrictions. The court had said that the ban can be imposed only by amending the Representation of People’s Act.
All political parties in 2004 had agreed for a ban on opinion and exit polls but the government changed the law only to prohibit exit polls after protest by television channels.
Recently, Congress and several other parties demanded banning opinion polls, but faced fierce opposition from the BJP that said the Congress sought a ban because its “rout in the polls was imminent”. Congress countered criticism saying it had only given its opinion sought by the EC on the issue.
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But the EC negated the perception the background paper on opinion polls was its idea. It was learnt the law ministry had asked the commission to hold consultations with parties on opinion polls after attorney general GE Vahanvati gave a legal view favouring the restriction.
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Majority of the 80 political parties who gave their feedback on the background paper sought a ban or restriction on opinion polls during election time. They had argued the opinion polls disturbed the level playing field by concentrating only on major political parties and overlooking important regional or smaller parties.
Several parties had questioned the veracity of such polls: are they table-top surveys or genuine exercises. Another issue they raised was two surveys broadcast at the same time often presented entirely different results. Some parties wanted to know who funded these surveys.
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