Paise se satta, satta se paisa, Ki jagah, Janta se satta, janta ko satta
A system of free and fair elections, in a minimum sense of the term, has been a noteworthy achievement of Indian democracy. Yet, the mechanism of political representation does not encourage or provide meaningful and substantive choices to the citizens. Asymmetry of information and money ensures that there is no level playing field for political competition. Wide-ranging electoral reforms, along with reform of political institutions, are needed.
Unfortunately, of late there has been a move in the opposite direction. Instead of reforms that address these foundational issues, the country has witnessed trivial ‘reforms’ that distract from the increasing opaqueness and consolidation of the role of big money in electoral politics. Trust in voting and counting procedures and electoral authorities has faced serious erosion.
Therefore two kinds of electoral reforms are required:
- Recovery and reconstruction: Reversing some of the damages to the electoral system, especially in the arena of electoral funding, use of EVMs and the autonomy of Election Commission as an institution.
- Forward looking reforms: Expanding the range of choices available to voters, by fine-tuning the existing method of electing representatives, fair representation of women, ensuring fair and equal access to information and resources and strengthening mechanisms for free and fair conduct of elections.
3.1 Reverse the recent regressive changes to laws on electoral funding that allow foreign funds, unlimited donations by corporates and anonymous funding mechanisms like Electoral Bonds.
3.2 Bring a comprehensive law for election financing reforms that prescribes electoral expenditure limit for political parties, restrictions on use of cash, stronger disclosure requirements, compliance of disclosure requirements and penalties for non- adherence.
3.3 Strengthen political transparency by declaring recognised parties as Public Authorities under RTI Act, mandating declaration of sources of income by candidates, provision for verifying the declarations in the affidavits and making expense statements of candidates public.
3.4 Amend the Rules regarding the use of EVMs to provide for compulsory use of VVPAT-enabled EVMs, verifying count of VVPAT slips against EVMs, before declaration of results.
3.5 Amend the Constitution to provide for appointment of Election Commissioners by a multi-member constitutional committee, ban post-retirement posts for commissioners and provide the EC with the power to frame rules.
3.6 Provide for public funding of election by setting up a National Election Fund for electoral and other legitimate political expenses of each party or candidate on reimbursement basis.
3.7 Amend election laws to provide: mandatory and free air time to all political parties; equitable access to information and media space during elections; and regulations to check paid news, conflict of interest, political ownership of media, and misuse of public money.
3.8 Amend the Constitution to provide for at least one-third representation of women in parliament and state assemblies.
3.9 Enact a law to regulate the internal functioning of political parties to provide for transparency and internal democracy.