The Election Commission of India has sought powers to act against those that try to hit the poll panel’s image and credibility with baseless and unfounded allegations. The EC has written to the Law Ministry seeking powers to act against such mudslingers via amendments to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The Commission, The Indian Express has learnt, seeks to punish those who act in disobedience with discourtesy in respect to the panel’s authority.
Here is a look at the contempt laws against poll panels in some countries:
Pakistan: The Indian Election Commission cited the example of Pakistan when it came to contempt laws against poll bodies.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has the power to take disciplinary action against anyone who intends to or tries to malign its image. Earlier in January, the ECP initiated proceedings against cricketer-turned-politician and chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) Imran Khan over contemptuous remarks against Pakistan’s premier poll body. One can file a petition for contempt before ECP, as it happened in Khan’s case. Akbar S. Babar, an ex-founding member of PTI filed a case of contempt before ECP and sought summoning of Khan to explain his statements of “bias” by the poll panel in a foreign funding case.
In Pakistan, according to Section 103-A of its Representation of People Act, 1976, “The commission shall have the same power as the High Court has, to punish any person for contempt of court and the Contempt of Court Act, 1976 (XLIV of 1976), shall have effect accordingly as if reference therein to a ‘court’ and to a ‘judge’ were a reference, respectively, to the ‘commission’ [and the commissioner or, as the case may be, a member of the commission].”
Iran: Though it doesn’t have a separate law to safeguard its election body against contempt, its penal code has harsh punishment for anyone who insults any public official or institution. It states: “Anyone who insults any of the leaders of the three branches of government, presidential deputies, ministers, any of the members of Parliament, or any ministry staff, or any other state employees, due to their duties, shall be punished by imprisonment of three to six months, flogging (74 lashes) or a fine.”
Liberia: The small country in west Africa has tough laws on contempt against its poll bodies including fine and other disciplinary action. It can issue citation for appearance before court any political party or its leaders, independent individuals, issue subpoenas for summons to hearings, punish for obstruction or disobedience of its orders.
Venezuela: The Venezuelan Law says that it is a crime to offend “in writing, speech or by any other means”. The sentence can extend up to 30 months and if done in public space it can get increased by a third of its quantum. It specifically guards public officials, heads of states, institutions, officials representing authority etc.
Big democracies like the US and Canada do not have contempt against election panel laws for being in conflict with their freedom of expression laws.
ECI’s requests for powers against contempt have been quashed before
The Election Commission of India had asked for contempt powers nearly three decades ago as well. The Law Ministry had constituted a committee on electoral reforms. In the report titled Report of the Committee of Electoral Reforms headed by Dinesh Goswami, the committee had made observations on contempt powers sought by EC.
On the question of conferment of power of contempt on election commission, The report said: “The Committee considered the proposal of empowering the Election Commission with power of contempt of court to the limited purpose of Symbol cases and reference cases regarding disqualification of sitting members. It does not, however, favour the proposal.”