Several instances of violation of Model code of conduct erupt recently
What is Model code of conduct
- The model code refers to a set of norms laid down by the Election Commission of India, with the consensus of political parties.
- MCC bears no statutory backing and remains unenforceable.
- It spells out the dos and don’ts for elections. Political parties, candidates and polling agents are expected to observe the norms, on matters ranging from the content of election manifestos, speeches and processions, to general conduct, so that free and fair elections take place.
- The MCC is operational from the date that the election schedule is announced till the date that results are announced.
Need of model code of conduct
- It ensures a level playing field for all political party and contestants
- It ensures that party in power cannot take any undue advantages or benefits during election
Evolution of MCC
- 1960: Kerala was the first state to adopt a code of conduct for elections. The draft code is prepared by state administration
- 1974: EC released a formal Model Code of Conduct. This Code was also circulated during parliamentary elections of 1977. Until this time, the MCC was meant to guide the conduct of political parties and candidates only.
- 1979: The MCC incorporated certain restrictions to regulate the conduct of the party in power.
- 2014: EC issued guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.
What are the key provisions of the Model Code of Conduct?
- General Conduct: Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work.
- Meetings: Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
- Polling day: All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges. These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.
- Polling booths: Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the Election Commission, will be allowed to enter polling booths.
- Observers: The Election Commission will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
- Party in power: The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections. Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants
- Election manifestos: Added in 2013, EC issued guidelines to rationalise manifesto of political parties.
Recently, The Election Commission (EC) amended the MCC prohibiting political parties from releasing their manifestos in the last 48 hours leading up to voting in each phase of the coming Lok Sabha elections.
- Under Article 324 the election commission issues Model Code of Conduct at the time of the announcement of the dates of the elections.
- The Election Commission can issue a notice to a politician or a party for alleged breach of the code either on its own or on the basis of a complaint by another party or individual. Once a notice is issued, the person or party must reply in writing. If the person or party is found guilty subsequently, he/it can attract a written censure from the Election Commission.
- MCC bears no statutory backing and remains unenforceable.
- However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
- The EC has devised several mechanisms to take note of the offences, which include joint task forces of enforcement agencies and flying squads. The latest is the introduction of the cVIGIL mobile app through which audio-visual evidence of malpractices can be reported.
•Article 324 empowers EC to superintend, direct and control the elections taking place in the centre and the states.
• Article 327 to 329 enable the Parliament & the State legislature to make laws in relation to the matters with relation to the election at the Center or the State Legislature.
• The Representation of People Act, 1950 and the Representation of People Act, 1951 have been enacted under Article 327 by the Parliament to deal with all aspects of the conduct of election and post-election disputes.
Issues with MCC
- Not legally enforceable: The commission usually uses moral sanction to get political parties and candidates to fall in line. But due to lack of legal backing Political parties often flout the norms
• View of Election Commission: The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding. EC observe that elections must be completed within a relatively short time, and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law.
• View of standing committee on electoral reform: It recommended making the MCC legally binding. It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
- Government-sponsored advertisements: MCC prohibits the issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer but the government can release advertisements prior to the announcement of elections giving an advantage to the ruling party.
Law Commission recommended that a restriction should be imposed on government-sponsored advertisements for up to six months prior to the date of expiry of the House/Assembly.
- Hindered development activities: MCC prohibit announcement of new projects which hamper the development activities. However, The EC was of the view that the code does not bring governance to a halt. It said the code only bars announcement and launch of new schemes and projects so that voters are not influenced by the party in power.
- Enforcement capacity of Election commission: EC often runs with short of enforcement agencies and personnel who take vigil on impermissible content.
- Enforce Model Code of Conduct on social media: The model code applies to all social media content, but closed systems such as WhatsApp, where users connect individually, are not covered by the election commission’s guidelines.
The MCC has evolved over time and is a strong tool used by the ECI to keep the process of conducting elections fair. In the digital era enforcement of Model code of conduct remains a major challenge for election commission. MCC should be provided with statutory backing. The legal provisions will make the MCC more powerful. There should be establishment of special fast track courts to solve the election MCC violation cases at a faster rate.