Expressing concern over the growing interference in the conducting of free and fair elections by the power of money, Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi pitched in for electoral reforms here on Sunday.
Accepting that the demands raised by Mr. Quraishi were valid, Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily pointed out that the country had not gone for electoral reforms in the past 60 years and expressed “the need to have a national dialogue on a crucial matter like this”.
Speaking at the Second Regional Consultation for Electoral Reforms organised by the Union Law Ministry and the Election Commission, Mr. Moily also highlighted the issues of the politicisation of bureaucracy and crime in politics.
Enumerating measures to be implemented during the Bihar Assembly elections, such as the requirement of every candidate to create a separate account for election expenses, to have teams of observers, micro observers and video surveillance, and maintain shadow registers, Mr. Quraishi said that the Commission was still considering stricter action against those engaging in “paid news”.
“We had issued 86 notices related to paid news. Since we also gave evidences to the candidates, they agreed and decided to charge it as expenses in their accounts. But it is not just a question of [charging it as] expense, there is an element of deceit involved,” he said.
Mr. Quraishi also called for a ban on opinion polls because in the scenario of paid news, where news can be manipulated, there is also the possibility of opinion polls being manipulated. He, however, said that the Election Commission as an institution was against the “shortcut solution”, of having State-funded elections, that was often offered for the problem of undue influence of money. It would just put thousands of crores of public money into the hands of political parties without the guarantee that expenditure ceilings will be respected.
Suggesting that the accounts of political parties be audited by a panel appointed by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), he also said that door-to-door campaigning in the last 48 hours before the polls should be disallowed.
“While mass-media campaigning is disallowed in the last 48 hours before the date of the polls, door-to-door campaigning is allowed. It should be disallowed as we have found that this is also the time when most of the money changes hands, whether it is cash, kind or liquor,” he said, adding that it was also a time that people could use to calmly reflect before making a decision.
Mr. Quraishi also sought the government's help in setting up an institute of election management in the country in view of the interest shown by other countries in India's electoral process.