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NEW demands for electoral reforms

By Vicky Nanjappa
March 18, 2009 19:40 IST
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The National Election Watch, a nationwide campaign comprising of 1,200 Non-Government Organisations, has come up with a list of demands that parties should include in their menifestos and strive implement if they come to power.

Former chief election commissioner T S Krishnamurthy, a member of NEW, said, "In my opinion, electoral reforms are most important from the point of view of safeguarding Indian democracy, integrity and pluralistic society. If reforms are not taken up seriously there are threats to each one of these. At a minimum we need to check the criminalisation of politics and bring in a bill to regulate political parties."

Admiral (retired) R H Tahiliani, chairman of NGO Transparency International India and a member of the NEW committee, said, "Electoral reforms are very important to be pursued after the battle won by civil society groups on March 13, 2003 about disclosure of candidates standing for elections. Without adequate electoral reforms, we will not be able to have elections in the true letter and spirit."

The Dean of Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore and a founder member of Association for Democratic Reform in India, Professor Trilochan Sastry, said, "Most political parties are paying lip service on the issue of electoral reforms. Some of the demands here have been pending for more than two decades and have been recommended by various committees and panels setup by the government itself, including the 170th Law Commission and the National Commission on Review of Working of the Constitution. The parties should include implementing these reforms in their manifestos and systematically work towards applying them into the law".

NEW recommendations on electoral and political reforms:

  • For upholding the highest traditions of probity and morality in public life, any person against whom charges have been framed by a court of law of serious offences like murder, attempt to murder, rape, kidnapping, extortion, etc. should not be allowed to contest elections.
  • In order to protect the identity of a voter wishing to exercise his/her right under Section 49(O), an additional button on the Electronic Voting Machine should be there saying "None of the Above".
  • Candidates should declare their income and sources of income along with the current declaration of assets and liabilities at the time of nominations.
  • The excessive use of money in elections vitiates democracy. Anyone who breaks the law by giving money and gifts to voters, or exceeding the legal spending limits should have his/her election set aside.
  • Clean and accurate voter rolls are the very basis for a functioning democracy.  The process to keep them accurate and updated should be made completely citizen friendly. There should be only one voter list for all elections. Access to voter rolls should be made available at all times.
  • As people have the right to elect their representatives, they should also have the right to recall them.
  • The Election Commissioners should be appointed by a committee consisting of the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
  • The Election Commissioners should not be eligible for any office for a period of five years after retirement. They should also not be allowed to join any political party for five years after retirement.

Recommendations for reform of political parties:

  • There is an urgent need for a comprehensive bill to regulate political parties. An excellent draft for this has already been prepared by the Law Commission. Such a bill needs to be passed by Parliament.
  • There is a need to make it mandatory for all recognised registered political parties to have democratically elected bodies and their functioning, including their financial status, should be made transparent and known to all.
  • Since it has been made mandatory for all candidates to make their financial status public, the political parties should also be called upon to regularly file statements of their assets and liabilities, which should also be made public.
  • Political parties and candidates should declare their sources of funds well before elections so that voters can make an informed choice.
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Vicky Nanjappa