Debate on the Issue – A Brief History
In India, simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha (House of The People) and Vidhan Sabhas (State Legislative Assemblies) were organized in the years 1951-52, 1957, 1962 and 1967. Thereafter, however, the schedule could not be maintained and the elections to the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas have still not been realigned.
The next General Election to the Lok Sabha is scheduled for 2019. Elections for the Vidhan Sabhas of 5 States are scheduled for 2017, for 13 States in 2018, for 9 States in 2019, for 1 State 2020 and the remaining are scheduled for 2021.
The issue of simultaneous elections was debated by the Law Commission in its 107thReport in 1999 (Reform of Electoral Laws) , where in it was mentioned that – “The rule ought to be one election once in five years for Lok Sabha and all Legislative Assemblies”.
Recently, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice presented its 79th Report on ‘Feasibility of holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies’ on 17th December 2015.
Several structural changes will need to be done in case a decision is made to conduct simultaneous election, including possibility of Constitutional amendments to Articles 83, 172, 85 and 174 to streamline the process.
Simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas – the prime minister suggested it some time back, and recently the president voiced his support for the idea too – are back on the nation’s agenda. To take it forward, the government has sought the opinion of citizens on the issue through the MyGov digital platform.
In an interview given to CNN-News18, Prime Minister had said that simultaneous elections to the central and state legislatures would aid governance.
If nothing, this step would at least allow elected representatives a longer, and hence more appropriate, time-frame to evaluate public policy. Currently, from the politicians’ side, public policy evaluation is captive to electoral cycles and verdicts.
An elected representative is forced to evaluate policy not on the basis of its outcome, but on the basis of its real or perceived political fallouts almost every year. In the current system, national political parties in power are forced to do this many times in a tenure of five years (not counting by-elections), and regional parties at least twice.
One effect of this ‘electoral’ evaluation of policies is that some economically good policies are killed while still in infancy, and the bad ones continue.
For example, the reforms initiated by the Narasimha Rao government in 1991.In ‘1994, when Congress lost the assembly elections in several states, Rao decided that inflation was the thing to focus on, liberalisation be damned’.
Reforms, which ideally should have been given a longer time to play out, were underplayed too soon. Since then politicians have been unwilling to sell reforms due to short-term electoral consequences.
This is not to argue that ministers always tend to make wrong public policy choices. But the first task of a politician is to seek and maintain power; sound logic and economics comes second.
So, in a good policy vs good politics trade-off, it may be that ministers side with good politics even while knowing fully well that they would have to sacrifice sound policy.
Simultaneous elections to the central and state assemblies give ministers and representatives a longer period—five years in India’s case—where they can focus only on policy and not be weighed down by politics. Free from the fear of polls and vote-banks for five years, policy evaluation can then be taken up through the appropriate tools.
In purely economic terms, there are some policies for which the short-term political costs are too high. The simultaneous elections idea would go a long way in eliminating those costs.
This is not to say that there will be no hiccups in the idea of simultaneous elections. Here are some possible hurdles.
First, what happens if a government, state or central, falls? This will de-sychronise elections again. So provisions may have to be made that even if governments fall, a new coalition must be elected in its place, even as a stopgap.
Second, during the changeover period, some state governments will have an extended life and some shortened ones, in order to hold the first of the elections simultaneously. States which face a shortened tenure, will protest. So the changes will clearly have to be negotiated in advance with major national and regional political parties.
The key to simultaneous polls thus, is political consensus.