The Election Commission on Saturday flagged the issue of “hate speeches” and plunging standards of political discourse during campaigning with the parties, in the backdrop of personal attacks by leaders in the recent assembly polls.
At the closed-door meeting, the political parties agreed that the issue had to be addressed. But most of the six national parties and the 49 regional parties opposed the suggestion of the poll panel to hike security deposit for contesting candidates and seeking a ‘no dues’ certificate from parties operating from government accommodations.
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At present, a candidate has to deposit a security of Rs 10,000 for assembly polls and Rs 25,000 for Lok Sabha polls which is forfeited in case the contestant gets less that one-sixth of the votes polled. There were also divergent views on the use of ‘totaliser’, a machine with mixes votes from various polling stations and which EC feels would further protect voters’ identity during counting of votes.
At the closed-door meeting, the Commission also took up the issue of ‘indirect campaigning’ in areas which go to polls in a multi-phased election.
“This (hate speech) is one of the issue that we had flagged for the ongoing assembly polls in five states. “All political parties have supported and have suggested and have committed that they will ensure that the upcoming elections are conducted with highest standards and decency and with decorum. The Commission is assured by all these political parties. We have also urged and appealed to them,” Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi later told reporters.
The EC had also taken up the issue of “provocative advertisements” in newspapers in an apparent reference to certain BJP ads which appeared in Bihar newspapers during assembly elections there. On the issue of ‘indirect campaigning’, EC said there have been instances when election rallies that are being held in areas where campaigning is on are beamed live to areas where voting is underway. There is no technology to jam TV signals in a particular area. Smaller parties said speeches by ‘star campaigners’ being beamed live spoil the level playing field. They asked EC to devise a system to ensure that such telecasts are not used by bigger parties to their advantage.
Some parties such as the BSP and the CPI also supported the idea of ‘proportional representation’ instead of the ‘first past the post’ concept at a meeting organised by the Commission here to discuss issues of electoral reforms and improving standards of campaigning.
Under proportional representation, seats are allocated on the basis of the number of votes each party receives. In first past the post, voting takes place in single-member constituencies. The electorate votes for their favoured candidate and the candidate with the most votes in the
On the issue of security deposit, several parties said it would create difficulties for candidates of smaller parties and those coming from humble background. There were suggestions that other means can be used to check “dummy” or “bogus” candidates. The Delhi High Court had suggested to EC that political parties functioning out of government accommodations should give a ‘no dues’ certificate to prove that they have cleared all electricity and water bills. But parties said this was not practical suggestion. Some said the no dues certificate introduced for candidates since last month even if they had occupied a government accommodation in the past decade is also leading to corruption as bribe is being asked to give such a certificate.
The poll panel also demonstrated ‘totaliser’, a new machine to enhance secrecy of votes during counting which prevents disclosure of voting pattern. EC has approached the Law Ministry with a proposal for the introduction of these machines.
The poll panel is of the view that the use of ‘totaliser’ will bring more secrecy in voting and the mixing of votes at the time of counting will be achieved, which will prevent the disclosure of pattern of voting at a particular polling station.
While some like CPI’s Atul Anjan and BSP’s Satish Mishra supported the idea, most were of the view that knowing the voting pattern was the “right” of a candidate. They said voting pattern also helps political parties to improve on their strengths and work on weak areas.
At the end of the deliberations, Zaidi told the delegates that based on their feedback, the Commission will approach the Law Ministry to change electoral rules wherever required. The meeting was organised as the Law Ministry had asked EC to consult parties before rules can be changed to further reform the electoral system.