• The Model Code of Conduct is a set of norms issued by the Election Commission of India to regulate the conduct of political parties and their candidates in the run up to elections and is aimed at ensuring free and fair elections.
  • It has evolved with the consensus of political parties who have consented to abide by the principles embodied in the said code and also binds them to respect and observe it in its letter and spirit. It has a set of guidelines and instructions on general conduct, campaigning, meetings etc., during elections for guidance of political parties and candidates.
  • It helps EC in keeping with the mandate it has been given under Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives it the power to supervise and conduct free and fair elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures.

Date of Beginning and End

  • The Model Code of Conduct is enforced as soon as elections to either state assemblies or the Lok Sabha are announced by the Election Commission and is operational till the process of election is completed.

Role of Election Commission

  • The Election Commission ensures its observance by political party/parties in power, including ruling parties at the Centre and in the States and contesting candidates in the discharge of its constitutional duties for conducting a free, fair and peaceful elections to the Parliament and the State Legislatures under Article 324 of the Constitution of India.
  • The ECI also ensures that official machinery for the electoral purposes is not misused.
  • Further, the ECI makes sure that electoral offences, malpractices and corrupt practices such as impersonation, bribing and inducement of voters, threat and intimidation to the voters are prevented by all means. In case of violation, appropriate measures are taken. However, the guilty are let off with a warning in most cases.

Evolution of Model Code of Conduct

It was originated and evolved with the consensus of the political parties.

  • The origin of the MCC dates back to 1960 when the MCC started as a small set of Dos and Don’ts for the Assembly election in Kerala in 1960.
  • In 1962 Lok Sabha General Elections, the Commission circulated this code to all the recognized political parties and the State Governments were requested to secure the acceptance of the Code by the Parties. In 1967, the Code was followed in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. (CEC-Shri K.V. K. Sundaram).
  • In 1968, the Election Commission held meetings with political parties at State level and circulated the Code of Conduct to observe minimum standard of behavior to ensure free and fair elections. (CEC-Shri S.P. Sen Verma)
  • In 1971-72, during General Election to the House of the People/State Legislative Assemblies the Commission circulated the Code again. (CEC-Shri S.P. Sen Verma)
  • At the time of general elections to some State Assemblies in 1974, the Commission issued the code of conduct to the political parties in those States.
  • The Commission also suggested constituting committees at district level headed by the District Collector and comprising representatives of political parties as members for considering cases of violation of the code and ensuring its compliance by all parties and candidates.
  • For the 1977 Lok Sabha general election, the Code was again circulated to the political parties. (CEC-Shri T. Swaminathan)
  • In 1979 Election Commission, in consultation with the political parties further amplified the code, adding a new Section placing restrictions on the “Party in power” so as to prevent cases of abuse of position of power to get undue advantage over other parties and candidates. (CEC-Shri S.L. Shakhdar)
  • In 1991, the code was consolidated and re-issued in its present form. (CEC-Shri T.N. Seshan)
  • The present code contains guidelines for general conduct of political parties and candidates.
  • MCC has got the judicial recognition of the highest court of land. The dispute over the date when the Model Code of Conduct should come into force the issuance of the press release by EC announcing the poll dates or the date of actual notification in this regard was resolved in the Union of India Vs. Harbans Sigh Jalal and Others decided on 26.04.2001. The apex court gave the ruling that the Code of Conduct would come into force the moment the Commission issues the press release, which precedes the notification by a good two weeks. This ruling lay at rest the controversy related to the dates of enforcement of MCC. Thus, the MCC remains in force from the date of announcement of elections till the completion of elections.

What comes under the Model Code of Conduct?

  1. The government usually doesn’t introduce any new ground for projects or public initiatives once the Model Code of Conduct comes into force.
  2. Government bodies are prohibited from participating in any recruitment process during the process of election.
  3. The contesting candidates and their campaigners are not supposed to disturb the freedom of roadshows of their opponent candidates. The code of conduct exercise control over this majorly.
  4. The election campaign rallies and roadshows must not affect the road traffic and the general public.

Salient Features of Model Code of Conduct

The salient features of the Model Code of Conduct lay down how political parties, contesting candidates and party(s) in power should conduct themselves during the process of elections. MCC contains eight provisions dealing with:

  • General Conduct: Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work. Activities such as using caste and communal feelings to secure votes, criticising candidates on the basis of unverified reports, bribing or intimidation of voters, etc. are prohibited.
  • Meetings: Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
  • Processions: If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish a contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash. Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
  • Polling Day: All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given suitable badges or identity cards. Identity slips supplied by them to voters shall be on plain (white) paper and shall not contain any symbol, name of the candidate or the name of the party.
  • Polling Booths: Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the EC are allowed to enter polling booths.
  • Observers: The EC will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
  • Party in power: The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power.
    • Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.
    • The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.
    • Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc.
    • Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses and these must not be monopolised by the party in power.
  • Election manifestos: Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.

Applicability of code during general elections and bye-elections

  • During general elections to House of People (Lok Sabha) the code is applicable throughout the country.
  • During general elections to the Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha) the code is applicable in the entire State.
  • During bye-elections, the code is applicable in the entire district or districts in which the constituency falls.

Legal Status for Model Code: Views of the Election Commission

  • Though MCC does not have any statutory backing, it has come to acquire strength in the past decade because of its strict enforcement by the EC.
  • In 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the MCC legally binding and recommended that the MCC be made a part of the RPA 1951. However, the Election Commission stands against granting of legal status to MCC, as it may be counterproductive.
    • In our country, elections are conducted within a very limited time span according to a well laid down schedule. Normally, a general election in a State is completed in about 45 days, from the day of announcement of the election schedule by the Commission. Thus, the expedition and promptness in dealing with the cases of violation of the model code of conduct is of the essence. If no timely action is taken to curb the violations and against the violators of the model code during the limited period when the election process is on, the whole significance of the MCC would be lost and the violator would be able to reap the benefit of such violation. If the model code of conduct is converted into a law, this would mean that a complaint would lie to the police/Magistrate. The procedures involved in judicial proceedings being what they are, a decision on such complaints would most likely come only long after the election is completed.

Developmental related concerns associated with MCC

  • One often gets to hear the complaint that the MCC is coming in the way of developmental activities. However, even when MCC is under way for a short duration, the on-going development activities are not stopped and are allowed to proceed unhindered, and only the new projects, etc., which have not taken off on the ground that have to be deferred till the completion of elections. If there is any work that cannot wait for any reason (relief work on account of any calamity, etc) the matter can be referred to the Commission for clearance.

How does the Model Code of Conduct exercise control over election with respect to Meetings?

  1. Respective parties are supposed to inform the local police in advance of the scheduled meetings with proper information on venue and time in order to maintain law and order and control traffic of that area.
  2. The model code of conduct mentions provision for seeking permission for the use of loudspeaker for any proposed meeting only after availing licenses for such arrangements in advance.

Shortcomings of Model Code of Conduct

  • Social media has made the line between private and public.
  • Implementing MCC has become difficult thanks to modern methods like live webcasting, making election-related content go “Viral,” using celebrities as “influencers,” etc. leading to a blurring of the line between them.
  • Election Commission lacks the resources and surveillance capabilities to enforce and penalize MCC violations on social media. On the other hand, Foreign entities manage digital businesses like Facebook.
  • In the digital age, it is challenging to follow money trails and poll expenditures. Many times, political parties’ proxies handle expenditure. And digital media is a powerful source of malicious, unconfirmed fake news.
  • Closed systems, such as Whatsapp, which is the biggest social media platform in the nation, are not covered by the electoral commission’s rules.
  • The code merely gives recommendations for candidates, it does not specify what the ECI may do with government agencies and political parties.
  • For instance, the abrupt transfer of top officials employed by State governments according to an Election Commission order affects the state’s administrative functioning.
  • Recently ECI ordered Kerala’s government to stop selling supply kits that included things like grains, lentils, and cooking oil. Amid an ongoing pandemic, this choice might not be sensible.
  • According to experts, the ruling party has a compliance deficiency.
  • The lack of compliance in the 2019 elections is a reflection of both the political parties disrespect for the MCC and the ECI’s incapacity to maintain its constitutional advantage through ongoing monitoring and tough enforcement.
  • Due to the MCC’s voluntary nature, the election commission mechanism must maintain its political neutrality.
  • The MCC’s illegal nature reduces parties’ sense of threat. Sometimes, execution certainty and ambiguous implementation methods coexist. And a lack of awareness among the voters regarding the nature and enforcement of MCC leads to poor reporting of violations to EC by voters.

Way Forward

  • Candidates who engage in election misconduct are not subject to disqualification by the Election Commission. In the best-case scenario, it might order the registration of a case.
  • Establishing special fast-track courts could help resolve instances involving election MCC violations more quickly.
  • The Law Commission noted in its report on electoral reforms from 2015 that the MCC only comes into effect from the time the Commission announces elections.
  • Before that, the ruling party can publish their advertisements which can give them an undue advantage and disadvantage to the other party candidates.
  • Hence, Government-sponsored advertisements should be restricted for a period of up to six months before the expiration date of the House or Assembly.
  • There is a need to establish fast track court or tribunal for MCC violation cases.
  • More technological resources, such as AI-based systems, can be used to halt violations on social media sites.
  • For instance, with the help of the internet app cVIGIL, voters can alert election officials immediately to any MCC infractions.
  • The Election Commission should be given more autonomy, similar to CAG, as this will enable it to take tougher action against influential politicians.
  • It is possible to consider giving MCC statutory support without impairing the EC’s authority.

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