Introducing electoral reforms to reduce the influence of money and muscle power in politics FAST FACTS ? ? ? ? 33% of candidates who declared assets more than INR 5 crore, won in 2009. i 2009 Lok Sabha Poll estimated spending (nearly INR 10,000 crore) is higher than the 2008 US Presidential Elections (nearly INR 8,000 crore). ii The cost of conducting 2004 elections was 125 times1 greater than that of 1952. iii 162 MPs elected in 2009 have criminal cases against them; 26% increase from 2004. OVERVIEW Free and fair elections form the foundation of any healthy democracy.
Electoral reforms aim to strengthen the system by bringing in changes to the existing set-up. Elections in India have been plagued by issues related to criminalization of politics and abuse of money and power. Since unaccounted money forms a large part of election financing, requisite electoral reforms can play an important role to weed out corruption. Lack of credibility deters people from participating in electoral processes and on a macro-level hampers economic, social and administrative capabilities. Amongst the MPs elected in 2009, 162 had 522 criminal cases pending against them of which 76 were serious cases.
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Some MPs have also been involved with the mafia, using muscle power to tilt the voting count in their favour. A recent Supreme Court verdict deemed unconstitutional Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act. The act gave chargesheeted members of Parliament three months of time to file an appeal to a higher court after conviction. According to the recent order, convicted MPs will be immediately disqualified from their position as a member of the house. iv The order is being currently analyzed by the law ministry.
In terms of campaign finance, the election commission prescribes the maximum limit allowed under election expenditure (Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961). v Currently, each 1 Symbolizes money spent by GOI to conduct elections. The number does not include spending by state governments, political parties and candidates. candidate is allowed to spend a maximum of INR 40 lakhs per Lok Sabha constituency which is an increase from the INR 25 lakhs in 2009. The maximum expenditure allowed to be spent by candidates per state assembly constituency is INR 16 lakhs, an increase from INR 10 lakhs in 2009. i Reports suggest open abuse of these limitations with real numbers escalating to crores of rupees. vii SOME CHALLENGES ? A 2009 report by the Association for Democratic Reforms suggests that around 1158 or 15% of all candidates contesting in the general elections had criminal charges pending against them. viii While candidates who are convicted of crimes are disqualified, there are many against whom the cases are pending and there are those who are out on bail. Since electoral reforms require parliamentary approval, corrupt politicians have a strong incentive to prevent it.
Data also suggests that higher the assets the more are the chances of winning of a candidate. ix In addition to this, percentage growth in assets of 304 MPs who re-contested in the 2009 was 289%. While candidates have to file affidavits demonstrating their election expenditure, most of those are allegedly understated. In terms of funding of political parties, there is a provision where donors who contribute a sum less than INR 20,000 are allowed to be anonymous. Data suggests that between 2004 and 2011, the Congress received over INR 2,004 crore and the BJP around INR 994 crore from the donors.
The source of 85% of donations is unavailable. x ? ? ? THE NEXT STEPS While there have been a lot of recommendations to reform our electoral processes, their implementation has been negligible. New policies must be devised to create transparency if we are to draw a new breed of leaders into the electoral process. Pioneering and feasible steps are needed to be taken to clean our political system and make it fair and efficient. Manthan calls for innovative policy solutions from young enthusiasts. i Association for Democratic Reforms. (2009). Lok Sabha Election Watch 2009. Retrieved from http://adrindia. rg/sites/default/files/0. 10%20full%20report%2020-05-2010. pdf ii Press Trust of India. (2009, March 1). Lok Sabha polls to cost more than US presidential election. Live Mint. Retrieved from http://www. livemint. com/Politics/sFrNtS4yTgirv7rY0y8CHO/Lok-Sabha-polls-to-cost-more-thanUS-presidential-election. html iii Election Commission of India. (n. d. ). Lok Sabha Election Expenditure. Retrieved from http://eci. gov. in/eci_main1/expenditurel_loksabha. aspx iv Venkatesan, J. (2013, July 10). MPs, MLAs to be disqualified on date of criminal conviction. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www. thehindu. om/news/national/mps-mlas-to-be-disqualified-on-date-of-criminalconviction/article4901596. ece v Election Commission of India. (n. d. ). FAQ’s Contesting for Elections. Retrieved from http://eci. nic. in/eci_main1/Contesting. aspx vi Singh, G. (2011, February 28). Poll expense hiked by 60 per cent but MPs want more. India Today. Retrieved from http://indiatoday. intoday. in/story/poll-expense-hiked-but-mps-want-more/1/131094. html vii Singh, P. (2009, April 6). The Unseen Annas. Outlook India. Retrieved from http://www. outlookindia. com/article. aspx? 240129 viii Association for Democratic Reforms. 2009). Lok Sabha Election Watch 2009. Retrieved from http://adrindia. org/sites/default/files/0. 10%20full%20report%2020-05-2010. pdf ix Association for Democratic Reforms. (2009). Analysis of Criminal and Financial Details of MP’s of 15 th Lok Sabha (2009). Retrieved from http://adrindia. org/files/High%20level%20criminal,%20financial%20&%20educational%20analysis%20LS%202009. pdf x Chhibber, M. (2013, March 26). Govt. blocks EC move to make party funding transparent. The Indian Express. Retrieved from http://www. indianexpress. com/news/govt-blocks-ec-move-to-make-party-fundingtransparent/1093476/