Internal democracy – The ECI is right in rejecting the notion of ‘leader for life’ in political parties

Source: The post is based on the articles “Internal democracy – The ECI is right in rejecting the notion of ‘leader for life’ in political parties” and “Should the Election Commission insist on inner-party elections” published in The Hindu on 23rd September 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2: Electoral Reforms

Relevance: About internal democracy of political parties.

News: Recently, a political party in Andhra Pradesh reportedly elected their present leader as their president for life. The ECI says such a step is inherently anti-democratic and rejected the idea of a ‘permanent president’ for a party.

What is the legal position on conducting internal elections within political parties?

There is no law that mandates elections within political parties. Nothing in Article 324, section 29A of Representation of People Act, 1951 regulates the internal functioning of parties.

Political parties are nowhere mentioned in the constitution. The definition of political parties was given in anti-defection law, for the first time. All rules and regulations apply more to candidates than to political parties in India.

What are the directions of ECI on the internal democracy of political parties?

The commission said that a) No individual should be elected leader for life, b) Any party that participates in a democratic process, and wants to govern and legislate, should include a formal and periodic election of office-bearers.

Read more: Issues in Electoral Funding in India – Explained, pointwise
Why ensuring the internal democracy of political parties is challenging?

Nature of political parties in India: For instance, India has 1) Structured, cadre-based organisations that function towards an ideological goal or a principle. For Example, Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist parties, etc. 2) More loosely structured collections of individuals with different strands of opinion functions within an association that has core ideals. For example, the Congress party, 3) Some other parties still reflect social or regional cleavages and so on.

Family politics and leader-driven politics: The fragmentation of India’s polity into a federalised, multi-party system has also given way to the domination of “charismatic” individuals or their families. These parties’ support and financing structures necessitate a centralised control by a single coterie or a family.

So, these parties do not conduct internal elections to secure their leadership. Even if they do, they lack sufficient contestation and only favourite leaders get promoted over the populist leaders. This reaffirms the dominance of the high command.

The election is seen as a zero-sum game: Political parties are reluctant to allow internal contest, fearing that this could foster disunity, as opposed to nomination and consensus-building on leadership.

For example, the election system in U.K. and U.S. are such that it leaves some negative feelings among party members, due to internal contestation, even after the elections.

The ECI lacks statutory power to enforce internal democracy: The ECI has periodically used guidelines issued for the registration of parties under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to remind parties to conduct elections and to ensure that their leadership is renewed, changed or re-elected every five years. But the commission does not have any statutory power to enforce internal democracy in parties or to mandate elections.

Read more: Election Commission pushes for electoral reforms
What are different viewpoints about state funding of elections?

Instead of state funding of elections, state funding of political parties can be considered.

Currently, political parties depend on funding from outside sources. The system favours the donors rather than voters. Corporates pressurize the political parties to have their favourable policy regime.

The law commission in its 1999 report also recommended it. The formula of state funding of elections is debatable. One objective criterion is the state providing some money to political parties for each vote polled in their favour.

What are the possible options to ensure the internal democracy of political parties?

ECI could act as a regulator. Rather than having a new law, ECI needs to re-interpret the existing laws.

ECI should try some milder options rather than taking harsh steps like deregistering the political parties.

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