Why in news? The Election Commission of India (ECI) has plans to strengthen the electoral process, but some require scrutiny. What is an unhealthy pattern?
Even as electoral democracy has taken strong root in India, some unhealthy patterns have emerged.
The voter electoral participation has remained robust with the poor voting in large numbers.
But, the candidates and winners in Assembly and Lok Sabha polls have largely been from affluent sections.
With elections becoming expensive, most parties have sought to field richer candidates irrespective of their merit to represent public interest.
What are the current regulations?
Current campaign finance regulations by the ECI seek transparency on expenses by party and candidate.
The ECI prescribes limits on a candidate‟s expenditure have not been sufficient deterrents.
Poll results have tended to be a function of either party or leader preference by the voter rather than a statement on the capability of the candidate.
In many cases, capable candidates stand no chance against the money power of more affluent candidates.
What does the ECI seek to do now?
The ECI is considering tightening ways to cap the expenditure of parties.
It is welcomed as it should provide a more level playing field.
But even this can be meaningful only if there is more transparency in campaign finance.
The ECI has also suggested bringing social media and print media under the silent period ambit after campaigning ends.
Regulating social media will be difficult and it remains to be seen how the ECI will implement this.
What does the ECI‟s plan need?
The ECI‘s plans to introduce new safe and secure voting methods, however, this needs a thorough scrutiny.
The EVM used now as a standalone, one-time programmable chip-based system, along with administrative safeguards is a safe mechanism.
But any other online form of voting that is based on networked systems should be avoided.
The idea of an Aadhaar-linked remote voting system that is sought to be built as a prototype could be problematic.
This may be problematic because the unique identity card has excluded genuine beneficiaries when used in welfare schemes.
In what areas do the ECI needs concentration?
The measures missing from the recommendations are the need for more teeth for the ECI in its fight against vote buying and hate speech.
Vote buying – Increasingly, parties have resorted to bribing voters in the form of money and other commodities in return for votes.
While the ECI has tried to warn outfits or in some cases postponed polls, these have not deterred them.
Hate speech – In times when hate speech is used during elections, the ECI has only managed to rap the offending candidates or party spokespersons on the knuckles.
But stricter norms including disqualification of the candidate would be needed for true deterrence.