Differing with the Election Commission's suggestion that even charge-sheeted candidates be debarred from contesting elections and state funding of elections be avoided, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati said on Sunday that candidates implicated in false cases should not be barred till they were convicted by court.

Speaking at the inaugural session of the regional consultation on electoral reforms here, she suggested that the entire poll expenses be borne by the government of India. State funding, she argued, would help to cure the evils plaguing the electoral system, including criminalisation of politics. She also called for a law to end criminalisation of politics, but wanted safeguards to prevent its misuse.

She wanted a complete ban on exit and opinion polls, which she said were an “impediment to the conduct of free and fair elections.” “The forecast of opinion polls are mostly wrong, but more importantly, the pre-poll surveys tend to affect the election process.”

Ms. Mayawati made her suggestions shortly after Union Law and Justice Minister M. Veerappa Moily and Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi said that if electoral reforms made headway in Uttar Pradesh, one-sixth of India, the rest of the country would follow.

As for defections, Ms. Mayawati said experience had shown that the anti-defection law lacked teeth. Defections flourished under the garb of “merger,” which she termed a cruel joke on voters. Those charged under the anti-defection law should be disqualified from contesting elections for five years. Given that her Bahujan Samaj Party was at the receiving end after its MLAs switched sides in 1997 and 2003, she said the Speaker usually pronounced an unsatisfactory ruling.

“If an MP or MLA shifts political loyalty, he should be asked to resign and seek re-election on the symbol of the party he intended to join. But if the defection is for political gains, his membership of either House should be terminated by the Election Commission and a re-poll ordered. It is criminal to defect,” she said.

Ms. Mayawati said reforms would be incomplete if the Dalits, the poor and the downtrodden were unable to exercise their franchise without fear.

Mr. Moily said the reforms would address the needs of the common man so that his voice could be heard. From 156 million voters in the first general election to 750 million voters in the last election, India stood the test of time. However, he was unhappy that that compared with illiterate voters, literate voters, numbering 25 crore, did not tend to vote. Elections, he said, were an act of faith in the Republic and the Constitution.

Mr. Moily said the ongoing regional consultations, which would be followed by a national consultation in Delhi on April 2 and 3, would help evolve consensus on areas of concern.

Mr. Quraishi said persons with a criminal background contesting the elections had become a common phenomenon, and a legal answer was no solution as it “took 25 to 30 years for a person's conviction.” A candidate charge-sheeted by a court should be debarred from contesting. He lauded Ms. Mayawati for having announced that her party ticket would not be given to candidates with criminal antecedents.

Describing the state funding of elections as a “dangerous suggestion,” Mr. Qurasihi said this would be impossible to implement as money power could not be controlled. The ceiling on poll expenditure needed to be rationalised. Dubbing ‘paid news' a serious problem, he said opinion and exit polls could be manipulated with the use of money. “Since opinion polls can be manipulated, they should be banned.”

The transfer of officials should be finalised six months before election dates, and if they were to be transferred after that, the Commission should be consulted by the government. Victimisation of officers by the next government should also be brought to the Commission's notice.