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WHY ELECTIONS ?
An election is a contest organized between different political parties for getting people’s support.
The party which gets the support of the largest number of people comes to power and forms the government in a representative democracy election is a mechanism by which people can choose their representatives in an election, the voters make many choices.
(i)They can choose persons who will make laws choices.
(ii)They can choose persons who will form government and take major decisions.
(iii)They can choose the party whose policies will guide the government and law making.
(a) What makes an Election Democratic?
In a democracy elections reflect truly and solely the will of the people.
A democratic election must fulfill the following minimum conditions:
(i) Everyone should be able to choose. It means that every person should have one vote and every vote should have equal value.
(ii)There should be something to choose from. Parties and candidates should be free to contest elections. They should offer some real choice to the voters.
(iii) The choice should be offered at regular intervals. Elections must be held regularly after every few years.
(iv)The candidate preferred by the people should get elected.
(v)Elections should be conducted in a free and fair manner where people can choose as they really wish.
(b) Is it good to have Political Competition?
(i)Elections are a means to gain power and positions of influence in the government. in a nation with over 1,000 million population, there may be a few millions who nurture these aspirations and ambitions. These aspirations and ambitions can be fulfilled only if they get successfully elected as people’s representatives. Since the number of representatives to be elected is fairly very small there is cut throat competition among the aspirants.
(ii) Electoral competition is like a competition at any market place. in a market, business firms fight each other to gain consumer’s confidence. Those firms which are in a position to gain this confidence taste success. Those who fail finally have to withdraw from the market. Competition, therefore, compels adoption of consumer-friendly practices.
(iii) Same is the case with the electoral competition. Different political have to work to gain voters’ confidence. They may successfully hoodwink voters once or a couple of times. but this game cannot go on indefinitely, finally, every politician, or a political party, would have to show results and live upto voters’ expectation. This is what political or electoral competition ensures, and this is the strength of competition.
(c) Demerits of Political Competition:
The system of elections gives rise to political competition. Political competition has its own costs :
It creates a sense of disunity and factionalism.
Different political parties and leaders often use dirty tricks to win elections.
Parties and leaders often level allegations against each other.
This pressure to win electoral fights does not allow sensible long-term policies to be formulated.
The environment created by competition dissuades many people to enter the political arena.
WHAT IS OUR SYSTEM ELECTIONS?
(i) Elections to choose people’s representatives to Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Parliament) and Vidhan Sabha (State Assemblies) is held after every five years, i.e., the term of an elected representative (Lok Sabha, MP or Vidhan Sabha, MLA) is five years.
(ii) By-election is an election that is held to choose a candidate in place of a member of legislature who has resigned suddenly or died.
(iii) Mid-term election is an election held to constitute a new house if the legislature is dissolved before its full time.
(iv) Universal adult franchise implies that any person who has attained 18 years of age has a vote. There is no ‘discrimination on the basis of caste, sex, religion, etc.
(a) Electoral Constituencies:
(i) India follows an area based system of representation. For this purpose, the country is divided into different areas for purposes of elections. These are called electoral constituencies.
(ii) Voters who live in a constituency elect a representative for their area. For elections to Lok Sabha, the country is divided in 543 constituencies. Therefore, 543 MPs get elected to Lok Sabha as people’s representative.
(iii) One of the features of a democratic election is that every vote should have equal value. to ensure this, an effort has been made that each constituency should have roughly the same number of voters. In practice, however, it has not been possible to maintain this balance.
Demarcation of electoral constituencies for the state assemblies:
For elections to the state assembly, a state is divided into a number of electoral constituencies. The number of assembly constituencies in a state depends upon the size of area and population in the state. Each Parliamentary constituency has a number of assembly constituencies.
The same principle applies for elections to panchayats and municipalities. Each village or town is divided into several ‘wards’. Each ward elects one representative.
(b) Reserved Constituencies:
A true democracy provides equal opportunity to all individuals and sections of society to take part in elections get elected and share in the governance of the economy.
However, due to various historical, social, cultural and economic reasons, section of the society has remained backward. It constitutes the weaker section of the society.
The weaker section constitutes, by and large Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Castes (OBCs), and women.
The weaker section cannot be expected to play the game of electoral competition on the same turf as the powerful sections. To be meaningful, a level playing field is to be provided.
(c) Voters list:
Electoral roll is the list of persons who are eligible to vote in an election:-
All the citizens aged 18 years and above are eligible voters.
Every citizen has the right to vote regardless of his or her caste, religion or gender.
Persons with unsound mind and criminals can be denied the right to vote.
Election photo identity Card: Every eligible voter (i.e., whose name appears in the voters ’list) is being issued an identity card by the govermment. This contains the photograph of the voter. The card serves as a mark of identification at the time of polling of votes.
(d) Nomination of Candidates:
Any citizen of the minimum age of 5 years can file his nomination. filing the nomination means he can present himself as a candidate.
Every person who wishes to contest an election has to fill a ‘nomination form’ and give some money as ‘security deposit’.
Recently, a new system of declaration has been introduced on direction from the Supreme Court. Every candidate has to make a legal’ declaration, giving full details of:
Serious criminal cases pending against the candidate.
This information has to be made public. this provides an opportunity to the voter to make their decision on the basis of the information provided by the candidates.
Classification of candidates:
Candidates contesting an election can be classified in two groups:
(i) Independents, i.e., those individuals who contest elections on their own.
(ii) Party candidates, i.e., those individuals who contest elections as a nominee of a political party.
“Most candidates are fielded from political parties”.
Party candidates enjoy many advantages over independent.
(i) When a candidate represent a party, it is easier for voters to know what he stands for. so a person voting for a party candidate knows what he is voting for.
(ii)Modern electioneering is a cumbersome process. it needs huge Organisation to manage it. individuals cannot mobilize resource for this type of Organisation, parties can and they do mobilize resources.
(iii) Electioneering means campaigning in different forms and in different parts of a constituency. An individual cannot organise these but a party can.
(iv) On the polling day polling booths have to be set up and manned by volunteers. Polititical parties can easily manage it. A political party is geared to and has necessary resources to contest elections. Hence, individuals seek to be part of a political party.
(e) Election Campaign:
Election is all about choosing a representative to the legislature and / or the government. Before a judicious choice is made, voters need to be informed about :
(i) Who is a better representative?
(ii) Which party will make a better government?
(iii)These pieces of information are put together in an election campaign.
Candidates and / or parties
(i)Contact their voters.
(ii)Address mass gatherings / political meetings.
(iii)Mobilize their supporters.
In a battle for voters’ vote, competition gains heat.
Restrictions placed on election campaigns by law :
It is necessary to regulate campaigns to ensure that every political party and candidate gets a fair and equal chance to compete.
According to our election law, no party or candidate can:
(i)Bribe or threaten voters;
(ii) Appeal to them in the name of caste or religion;
(iii)Use government resources for election campaign; and spend more than Rs.5 lakh in a constituency for a Lok Sabha election or Rs. 10 lakh in a constituency in an Assembly election. If they do so, their election can be rejected by the court even after they have been declared elected.
Model code of conduct for election campaign:
All the political parties in our country have agreed to a Model Code of Conduct for election campaigns. According to this no party or candidate can:
Use any place of worship for election propaganda; use government vehicles, aircraft and officials for elections; and once elections are announced, Ministers shall not lay foundation stones of any projects, take any big policy decisions or make any promises of providing public facilities.
A party’s manifesto states its programme of action before it campaigns for votes among the voters.
(i) A manifesto tells the voters what the party thinks about major issues of internal or foreign policy, and promises to do certain things if it is voted to power.
(ii)It explains why does the party agree or not agree with the government.
(iii)It must also tell the voter what it is going to do if it wins.
(iv)A party which is in government tells voters why it acted the way it did.
(v) Election manifestos are important documents. Parties are judged by these.
Importance of Symbols in Elections:
Political parties have usually well-known symbols. Normally, a person recognises a party instantly from its symbol. Symbols are allotted by the Election Commission so that every candidate has a different symbol and the voters do not get confused.
(f) Polling and Counting of Votes:
(i) On the Election Day, every person whose name is on the voters’ list can go to a nearbe’ polling booth’, situated usually in a local school or a government office.
(ii)Once the voter goes inside the booth, the election officials identify her, put a mark on his finger and allow him to cast his vote. An agent of each candidate is allowed to sit inside the polling booth and ensure that the voting takes place in a fair way.
(iii)Earlier the voters used to indicate whom they wanted to vote for by putting stamp on the ballot paper. A ballot paper is a sheet of paper on which the names of the contesting candidates along with party name and symbols are listed.
(iv)Nowadays electronic voting machines (EVM) are used to record votes. the machine shows the names of the candidates and the party symbols. Independent candidates too have their own symbols, allotted by election officials. All the voter has to do is to press the button against the name of the candidate he wants to give his vote.
(v) Once the polling is over, all the EVMs are sealed and taken to a secure place. a few days later, on a fixed data, all the EVMs from a constituency are opened and the votes secured by each candidate are counted. The agents of all candidates are present there to ensure that the counting is done properly. The candidate who secures the highest number of votes from a constituency is declared elected.
(vi)In a general election, usually the counting of votes in all the constituencies takes place at the same time, on the same day. Television channels, radio and newspapers report this event. Within a few hours of counting, all the results are declared and it becomes clear as to who will form the next govermment.
(g) Election petition:
If a candidate is not satisfied by the way the election has been held, he can go to the Court and question his rival’s election. The decision of the Court does not let the questioning candidate win the seat but it makes winning candidate lose his seat.
WHAT MAKES ELECTIONS IN INDIA DEMOCRACY?
(a) Independent Election Commission:
Election Commission is an independent body provided for in the Constitution.
The whole election business is carried out by the Election Commission. It is charged with the responsibility of conducting free and fair elections which are the foundation of the whole system of democracy. Headed by the Chief Election Commissioner and two other members, the functions of the Commission are as follows:
(i)Preparation of voters ‘list
(ii) Delimitation of the constituencies
(iii)Controlling the election machinery
(iv)Recognizing newly formed parties
(v)Allotting party symbols to parties
(vi) Conducting of polling and counting of votes
(vii)Announcement of results.
The procedure for the appointment of Election Commission is laid down in the Constitution. The Election Commission makes sure that the party in power does not take undue advantage of its position.
(b) Popular Participation:
Another way to check the quality of the election process in to. See whether people participate in it with enthusiasm. If the election process is not free or fair, people will not continue to participate in the exercise.
(i)People’s participation in election is usually measured by voter turnout figures. Tumout indicates the per cent of eligible voters who actually cast their vote. over the last fifty years, the tumout in Europe and North America has declined. In India the turnout has either remained stable or actually gone up.
(ii)In India the poor, illiterate and underprivileged people vote in large proportion as compared to the rich and privileged sections. this is in contrast to western democracies.
(iiiCommon people in India attach a lot of importance to elections. They feel that through election they can bring pressure on political parties to adopt policies and programmes favorable to them. They also feel that their vote matters in the way things are run in the country.
(iv)The interest of voters in election related activities has been increasing over the years. During the 2004 elections, more than one-third voters took part in the campaign-related activities. More than half of the people identified themselves as being close to one or the other political party. One out of every seven voters is a member of a political party.
(c) Acceptance of Election Outcome:
If election are not free and fair, the outcome always favours the powerful. in such a situation, the ruling parties do not lose elections. The outcome of India’s elections speaks for itself:
(i)The ruling parties routinely lose elections in India both at the national and state level. In fact in every two out of the three elections held in the last fifteen years, the ruling party lost.
(ii)In the US, an incumbent or ‘sitting’ elected representative rarely loses an election. In India about half of the sitting MPs or MLAs lose elections
(iii)candidates who are known to have spent a lot of money on ‘buying votes’ and those with known criminal connections often lose elections.
(iv)Barring few disputed elections, the electoral outcomes are usually accepted as ‘people’s verdict’ by the defeated party.
(d) Challenges to free and fair elections:
(i)Candidates and parties with a lot of money may not be sure of their victory but they do enjoy a big and unfair advantage over smaller parties and independents.
(ii) In some parts of the country, candidates with criminal connection have been able to push others out of the electoral race and to secure a ‘ticket’ from major parties.
(iii)Some families tend to dominate political parties; tickets are distributed to relatives from these families.
(iv)Very often elections offer little choice to ordinary citizens, for both the major parties are quite similar to each other both in policies and practice.
(v)Smaller parties and independent candidates suffer a huge disadvantage compared to bigger parties.
These challenges exist not just in India but also in many established democracies. these deeper issues are a matter of concern for those who believe in democracy. That is why citizens, social activists and organizations have been demanding reforms in our electoral system.
ELECTIONS ARE THE BAROMETER OF DEMOCRACY
Elections are rightly said to be the barometer of democracy.
(i)It is through elections that the people give expression to their opinion.
(ii)It is through elections that the persons who have to work as representative of the people are identified.
(iii)Any unpopular government can be unseated in an election.
(iv)Elections help in maintaining an effective control over the executive.
(v)Elections are the time when it is possible to debate publicly on various socio-economic issues. different issues and subjects of concern come to the fore.
(vi)The true character of social and political workers comes out during the election campaign. The real worth of individuals can easily be adjudged.
In short, a fair and free election is indicative of the healthy and robust democracy.
IMPORTANCE OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN A DEMOCRACY
Political parties are important for the functioning of democracy.
(i)The participate in the elections.
(ii)They put forward their alms and goals before the people.
(iii)Through their manifestos they let the people know what programme of action they would follow if they are voted to power.
(iv)This makes it easier for voters to make their choice between different candidates.
(v)The ruling party helps the government to keep in touch with what the people feel about its policies.
(vi)Opposition parties act as watch-dogs on the government. they are always alert to the policies and actions of the government. they citicise the govermment for its acts of omission and commission. All these make sure that the government should not go out of the track.
ROLE AN OPPOSITION PARTY IN A DEMOCRACY
The opposition in a legislature represent the legitimized dissent of the people.
An opposition party plays a significant role in a democracy.
(i)It acts as an alert watch-dog.
(ii)It exercises a check on ill-considered legislations.
(iii)It helps check the slackness of the government and its various departments.
(iv)The member of the opposition can move adjoumment motions, cut motions, and vote of no-confidence, with the aim to highlight any major government failure or acts of omission.
(v)The investigative commissions set up to enquire into alleged cases of corruption or negligence of duties have members from the opposition parties also. This ensures that they act in a fair and unbiased manner.