Election modalities

Print edition : July 17, 1999

THE Election Commission (E.C.) has set the electoral machinery rolling. Unlike in the past, when the party in power suggested the polling dates and the E.C. merely announced them, planning the election schedule has been the E.C.'s prerogative in recent years. This has certainly helped the E.C. capture its primacy in the electoral process. Following a precedent established by T.N. Seshan as Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), the multi-member E.C. under CEC M.S. Gill reserved for itself the right to determine the schedule and matters relating to the coming into force of the model code of conduct.

The CEC and Election Commi-ssioners G.V.G. Krishnamoorthy and J.M. Lyngdoh announced in New Delhi on July 11 that the elections to the 13th Lok Sabha would be held in five phases, from September 4 to October 1. The polling dates are September 4, 11, 17 and 24 and October 1. A planned five-phase schedule is unprecedented in Indian electoral history.

Of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, 146 will go to the polls on September 4, 124 on September 11, 79 on September 17, 72 on September 24, and 122 on October 1. Counting will begin on October 5 and the final results will be declared on October 8. Separate notifications will be issued with regard to the schedules for the different groups of constituencies that go to the polls on different days so that candidates do not campaign beyond the legally permissible three-week period. Polling will be spread over three days in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and over two days in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa and Rajasthan. In the remaining States and Union Territories, it will be a one-day affair.

Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim, where the terms of the Legislative Assemblies were to end in less than six months, will have Assembly elections too. The E.C. has indicated that if the Maharashtra Government makes a request, it will hold Assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha elections in that State as well. The Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party Government is reportedly undecided about advancing the Assembly elections.

Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir will go to the polls on September 4, 11 and 17; Bihar and Uttar Pradesh on September 17, 24 and October 1; Madhya Pradesh on September 11, 17 and 24; Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu on September 4 and 11; Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Tripura and West Bengal on October 1; Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Delhi and Lakshadweep on September 4; Kerala and Pondicherry on September 11; Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland on September 24; Meghalaya on October 1; Manipur and Orissa on September 24 and October 1.

The timing of the announcement, on a Sunday, and the phased election schedule took the political fraternity by surprise. While the Congress(I) and the Left parties welcomed the announcement, the BJP expressed its disappointment. Although the BJP approved the phased schedule, party spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu said: "We are unable to understand the rationale behind the early announcement of the poll schedule."

Congress(I) spokesperson Ajit Jogi said that the BJP's criticism was "yet another proof of its fascist, narrow-minded thinking which implies total contempt and disregard for the Constitution and constitutional authorities." CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet said that the performance of the BJP-led government will be the main electoral issue. He added that the Opposition parties would expose the government's bungling of the Kargil episode if it tried to draw mileage from it.

The early announcement of the election schedule has restrained the Central and State governments from taking major policy decisions. Opposition parties have been concerned with recent policy changes made by the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led caretaker government in the aviation and telecom sectors.

The application of the model code of conduct, which has been approved by all political parties, came into effect immediately. By keeping the Central and State governments in suspense about the timing of its announcement, the E.C. prevented the possibility of policy decisions being taken with the intention of influencing the electorate.

According to the CEC, the E.C. will not register any new political parties until the electoral exercise is complete. While drawing the election schedule, the E.C. stuck to its May 4 position, following the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha, that the best possible time for the elections would be September-October.

It was expected that the E.C. would announce the election dates after the revision of the electoral rolls, which was scheduled to be completed by the third week of July. Perhaps the E.C. felt constrained to make an early announcement in view of the protests against the "improper" decisions taken by the caretaker government under the specious plea that it had the 'powers' to function as a full-fledged government until the election schedule was announced. Constitutionally, the next Lok Sabha should be convened by October 21, that is, within six months of the last sitting of the previous Lok Sabha.

The E.C. met the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the External Affairs Minister, the National Security Adviser and representatives of national parties on July 3. The political parties were unanimous about going ahead with the general elections as planned, despite the conflict in Kargil. There were detailed discussions with representatives of the Home Ministry on security arrangements. The deployment of the Central paramilitary forces is an essential feature of election planning. Battalions of the State police, Home Guards and other security agencies are also deployed in large numbers. In view of the engagement of the paramilitary forces in the border States, the E.C. has decided to utilise the services of 11 lakh senior and junior members of the National Cadet Corps. The E.C. based its decision also on inputs on the expected weather conditions from the India Meteorological Department.

The E.C. announced that electronic voting machines (EVMs) would be used in 46 Lok Sabha constituencies, spread over 17 States and Union Territories. Almost six crore voters will have access to these machines in more than 65,000 polling stations. Approximately one lakh EVMs are likely to be used.

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