Today's Editorial

17 February 2017

Election challenges for India and Nepal



Source: By Birendra P Mishra: The Statesman



The new constitution of Nepal, which was promulgated on 20 September 2015, is the seventh in seven decades. It provides for three-tier elections - to parliament, provincial assemblies and local units. A new parliament has to be elected by mid-January 2018 if the tenure of present House is not extended by amending the constitution. During this period, the provincial and local level elections should also be conducted.


Local level elections are primary, as the designated elected representatives of the local units have to elect the members of the Upper House of parliament. To hold all these elections simultaneously is also considered difficult as local units elections are getting delayed by the Madhesi opposition to some provisions of the constitution and also to the report of the restructuring commission submitted to the government.


Every election should be free and fair, on the one hand, and less expensive and cumbersome, on the other. The Constituent Assembly adopted the new constitution without sufficient deliberation. It neither paid any serious attention to the challenges that might crop up while holding elections nor did it take lessons from Indian experiences. Significantly, the Indian constitution, which was adopted after long deliberations by intellectuals and legal stalwarts, too, could not foresee the challenges of unscheduled elections, To avoid it, simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies are being considered.


It took almost two years in India to conduct elections to parliament and state assemblies after the constitution was adopted. It was really a tremendous effort to hold simultaneous elections to the Lower house of parliament and also the state assemblies as India have the largest number of voters in the world. Four simultaneous elections (till 1967) went on almost smoothly.


However, it was needed to hold states elections at different times on account of dissolution of the state legislatures. Even the Lower House of parliament went to mid-term polls a number of times. Now it is felt that simultaneous elections should be conducted to avoid unnecessary expenditureadministrative involvement and restrictions imposed by the electoral model code of conduct, as almost every or alternate year, and there is a mini general election when a number of states go to the polls. In short, irregular elections are necessitated when Houses are dissolved prematurely.


Dissolution of the House takes place in different conditions, such as, when there is no single party majority to form the government and fresh people’s mandate is required and when governor of the state recommends dissolution of the assembly after finding constitutional breakdown or on the advice of the state assembly itself. There is a history of dissolving state assemblies on the ground that they had lost people’s mandate if the parliamentary election gave a different verdict. It is held that the parliamentary system is a Prime-Ministerial system and a general election is held to choose a Prime Minster.


Thus, Prime Minister/Chief Minister, being the leader of the House, has the right to recommend dissolution of the house, when she thinks it proper. In Indian and some other constitutions, there are two different criteria, one for choosing a constructional authority and another for removing it. For example, the speaker of the Lower House is elected through a simple majority of votes but s/he can be removed only through two-thirds majority. Such provisions are supposed to make the process of removal difficult, if not impossible. If this provision is also made applicable to the dissolution of the House, it can prevent dissolution to a great extent.


In India, the BJP has its government at the Centre and in most of the states. The Congress party has less than half a dozen governments in the states. There are several regional parties, which are ruling states on their own. Every party has its natural interest to continue in power. Thus, the following procedure is suggested. First, the constitution can be amended to restrict the dissolution of legislatures.


For amendment, there must be consensus on the national level. Secondly, there should be a coalition government at the Centre of those parties that have their governments at the state level. The major party at the Centre has to sacrifice its interest to continue in power paving the way to sharing power with other parties. Thirdly, no party at the state level should suffer while dissolving the legislatures to hold simultaneous polls. Fourthly, for a limited period, there should be either Central rule in the state or the existing governments should continue as caretaker governments.

Practically, if BJP forms its governments in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and a coalition government with the Akali Dal in Punjab, it can hold simultaneous elections in 2019 along with Lok Sabha elections. In case, BJP fails to form governments in these states, simultaneous elections can be held in 2020 April or May so that the parties, which form governments in 2017, can enjoy the benefit of continuing in power till 2020 to execute their commitments. Nepal, if it decides to hold simultaneous elections has to think over all these obstacles before taking any concrete action on this score.