The Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Election Commission notification to hold separate polls for the two Rajya Sabha seats that fell vacant with its incumbents — Amit Shah and Smriti Irani — getting elected to Lok Sabha.
Here’s what is different in the voting process this time as compared to the August 2017 Rajya Sabha polls.
There are 11 Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat. Of these two fell vacant after the Lok Sabha elections because its incumbents Amit Shah (elected from Gandhinagar) and Smriti Irani (elected from Amethi) got elected to Lok Sabha. Five of the sitting MPs are from BJP, while four are from the Congress party.
According to the schedule announced by the EC, polls in Gujarat, Bihar and Odisha will be held on July 5 between 9 am to 4 pm and the counting of votes will be done the same day at 5 pm.
How is this bypoll different from the August 2017 Rajya Sabha elections?
The Election Commission has pointed out that vacancies for by-election “will be considered as separate vacancies and separate notifications are issued and separate poll is taken for each of the vacancies although the programme schedule for the by-elections may be common”. This, the EC said, is “in conformity with provisions of Section 147 to 151 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and has been a consistent practice of the Commission in such cases.”
It also pointed out the Delhi High Court ruling in favour of separate elections in 1994 and 2009.
The major departure from the Rajya Sabha elections held in 2017 is that the MLAs in Gujarat need not mention the first and second preference of candidates when they vote. A single transferable vote system, employed during Rajya Sabha polls, ensures that each MLA’s vote is counted just once.
However, this single vote is transferable from one candidate to another. The ballot paper bears the names of the candidates, and the MLAs mark on it his/her preference for the candidates with figures 1,2,3,4 and so on against the names chosen by him/her.
In a separate ballot paper system, as is to be done this time, there is only one candidate from a party, so the issue of marking preference does not arise.
In the 2017 Rajya Sabha elections, there was a contest for the third seat and Congress MP Ahmed Patel managed to win by a tiny margin along with Shah and Irani.
How will the separate ballot paper system work?
Elections to the two seats will be treated as two separate elections with separate ballot boxes and separate ballot papers. All the 175 MLAs (100 BJP, 71 Congress, 1 NCP, 2 Bharatiya Tribal Party and 1 Independent) in the 182 strong state legislature will end up voting twice as against the preferential ballot system where the MLAs voted are counted only once.
In other words it will be smooth sailing for the BJP candidates as the party has 100 MLAs in the Gujarat assembly. A victory in both seats will take BJP’s Rajya Sabha tally from Gujarat back to seven MPs.
What would have been the difference in the voting pattern had the polls been held simultaneously?
If the voting was to take place simultaneously for both the seats, then to win one seat, both parties would need at least 59 MLAs to vote for a candidate.
BJP does not have the requisite number to win both the seats in this case. Congress, with 69 MLAs (excluding Alpesh Thakore and Dhavalsinh Zala who resigned from the party and may not vote for its candidate) and the support of independent MLA Jignesh Mevani, can easily win one of the seats.
Why was polling held simultaneously for three Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat in 2017?
The polls held in August 2017 were general biennial elections that happened after the regular term of the sitting MPs expired. A biennial election is held every second year to elect new members to replace those retiring after their six-year term. The election held to fill a vacancy arising other than by retirement of a member on the end of his term of office is a bypoll. This, the EC says, are to be held separately.