The Election Commission is set to write to the Law Ministry seeking legal powers to countermand polls in case there is credible evidence of use of money to bribe voters, top sources told The Indian Express.
The move comes against the backdrop of a recent sting operation that purportedly showed a group of MLAs from Karnataka demanding money, in crores, for supporting a candidate in the coming Rajya Sabha elections. The poll panel had sought a report from the Karnataka Chief Electoral Officer on the matter.
Earlier, the EC, in an unprecedented step, was forced to cancel elections to two Tamil Nadu Assembly seats, Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, on the ground of voters being bribed with money during the recent campaign.
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According to sources, the EC is preparing a proposal seeking an amendment to Section 58A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which empowers the poll watchdog to adjourn or cancel elections on the ground of booth-capturing. “We want the government to either tweak this provision or introduce a new one through which the EC can also revoke any election (Assembly, Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha etc) if money has been used to influence voters,” said an official, who did not wish to be identified.
Section 58A was introduced in the 1980s when booth-capturing was rampant during elections in many parts of the country. “Booth-capturing has come down drastically with the use of electronic voting machines. But with changing times we are faced with newer challenges that vitiate the polling atmosphere. Misuse of money is the biggest hurdle we face in conducting free and fair elections,” the official added.
According to the EC, the total seizures from the two Tamil Nadu constituencies where elections stand cancelled amounted to Rs 7.12 crore cash, 429.24 litres of liquor and 33.256 kg of silver worth Rs 9 lakh at Aravakurichi, and Rs 75,20,850 cash and 2,145.12 litres of liquor at Thanjavur constituency, up to May 15, apart from one lakh saris and dhotis each by the two parties.
Apart from this, AIADMK candidates are alleged to have gifted Rs 5 lakh-Rs 50 lakh to villages and residential localities to renovate temples. The EC also referred to the use of means such as distribution of tokens to families to purchase home appliances after the polls.
The poll watchdog had to resort to Article 324 of the Constitution, which is the source of its extraordinary powers, to cancel elections in the two seats. “Instead to resorting to extraordinary powers repeatedly to take such a step, the EC would like to have it as part of the RP Act. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that the Commission will not use Article 324 again to countermand polls, until the proposal is accepted and executed by the government,” another EC source told The Indian Express.
While EC officials did not give a deadline to send the above proposal to the Law Ministry, they said it will be done before the Assembly elections next year.