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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  India moves closer to wider electoral reforms

India moves closer to wider electoral reforms

EC and political parties reach consensus on issues related to funding, fast-track courts for poll offences

The EC moved swiftly on the Law Commission’s 255th report, released earlier this month, and convened a national consultation on Monday covering a wide range of issues. Photo: MntPremium
The EC moved swiftly on the Law Commission’s 255th report, released earlier this month, and convened a national consultation on Monday covering a wide range of issues. Photo: Mnt

New Delhi: The country moved a step closer to greater electoral reforms on Monday with the Election Commission (EC) and political parties reaching a consensus on several electoral issues, particularly on political financing.

In a day-long national consultation on “Political Finance and Law Commission Recommendations", there were eight key areas of convergence, including stopping corporate donations to political parties, setting up fast-track courts to try election offences, monitoring third-party campaigners, setting up a National Electoral Trust under the control of the EC, vote buying to be controlled withing law, and bringing transparency in the process of auditing the accounts of political parties.

The EC moved swiftly on the Law Commission’s 255th report, released earlier this month, and convened a national consultation on Monday covering a wide range of issues.

These included international best practices on political finance, expanding in-kind government subsidy during election campaigns, financial contribution to political parties, vote buying, accounting and disclosure of election expenses by political parties and candidates as well as third-party campaigners.

“Law Commission’s report was discussed in great detail and a broad consensus was reached on a few issues. One is big money in elections to be controlled, vote buying is to be controlled with firm hand, transparency of accounts of political parties and candidates must be ensured. There was a consensus that no political funding by corporate should be permitted and there is a need to set up a common trust to be overseen by EC or an appropriate organization, (but) preferably EC. The EC should be given more powers to enforce law and rules and power to frame rules and instructions and guidelines that will be framed," Nasim Zaidi, election commissioner, said at the end of the consultation.

Key recommendations made at the consultation included giving legal backing to the model code of conduct; the threshold contribution limit for political parties; the audit of political party accounts through body empanelled by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India; the withdrawing of income tax exemption in the event of a party not contesting elections for five years; a separate law for functioning of political parties; uploading of returns and expenditure online; banning government advertisements in political party-owned media; and facilitating “free space" in the print media to political parties during election campaigning, along the lines of free air time on radio and television.

The consultation however did not have any clear, unanimous view on state funding of elections.

During a session on accounting and disclosure of election expenses, the key recommendation was that state funding is a “misnomer" and that the focus should be on “public funding".

In the same session, a key recommendation made was that there should be a separate law on the functioning of political parties that could incorporate funding and other issues.

To be sure, these are only recommendations from different stakeholders, including representatives from political parties, former election commissioners, electoral officers and representatives of not-for-profit organizations.

The EC will eventually decide which of them to include in its final recommendations and send them to the law ministry for consideration.

“There were nearly 38 good recommendations, out of which at least 12 had consensus. On our side, we will categorize all these recommendations—into full consensus, partial consensus and rejected—and prepare a summary before the end of the month and distribute it among stakeholders," H.S. Brahma, India’s chief election commissioner, said while addressing the meeting.

The consultation was attended by representatives of key political parties such as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Experts say that a lack of political will is the key reason behind a delay in introducing electoral reforms.

“The consensus has been evading because of the lack of political will. Whenever political parties want to pass a general bill, it is done even through a slender majority. But whenever it comes to electoral reforms, they do not even bring it up in the name of seeking national consensus," said S.Y. Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner who has been working in the field of electoral reforms and who attended Monday’s consultation.

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Published: 31 Mar 2015, 12:07 AM IST
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