When political parties draft their election manifestos in the coming weeks, they won’t be able to woo voters through mere promises, even if some of them are seen as populist or unrealistic, like they have in the past.
Days before announcing the schedule for the Lok Sabha polls, the Election Commission has included fresh guidelines in the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) that say manifestos will not just have to “reflect the rationale” for a promise but will also have to “broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it”.
The move, said officials, follows a Supreme Court direction and consultations with all recognised national and state political parties and is essentially targeted to ensure “free and fair polls”.
Stating that the “trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled”, the new guidelines say that “political parties should avoid making those promises which are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters in exercising their franchise”.
The new guidelines, now included as Part VIII in the MCC and sent to all national and state political parties, state that “in the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises, it is expected that manifestos also reflect the rationale for the promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it”.
The Supreme Court had in 2013 directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines regarding the contents of election manifestos in consultation with all recognised parties.
Conflicting views had emerged during the ECs recent meeting with parties on the subject. While some parties had expressed support for such guidelines, some others were of the view that it was their “right and duty” towards voters “to make such offers and promises in manifestos in a healthy democratic polity”.
The main argument against including manifestos-related guidelines in the MCC is that it may not be possible for political parties to work out in advance, minute details of the financial impact of the promises being made.
Agreeing in principle that framing of manifestos is the right of political parties, the EC has said it “cannot overlook the undesirable impact of some of promises and offers on the conduct of free and fair elections and maintaining level playing field for all political parties and candidates”.
The Model Code of Conduct for guidance of political parties and candidates is a set of norms that has been evolved with the consensus of political parties who have consented to abide by the principles embodied.
This code also binds political parties to respect and observe it in its letter and spirit. The Election Commission ensures its observance by political parties in power, including ruling parties at the Centre and in the states and contesting candidates.