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Manifesto freebies: Parties may propose self-regulation

Buttressing this viewpoint is an 11-page note sent by the Election Commission to presidents of six national parties

Written by Swaraj Thapa | New Delhi | August 6, 2013 12:58:09 am

Rather than adopt guidelines that would restrict their playing field,political parties at an all-party meeting called by the Election Commission next week,may end up proposing self-regulation while addressing the tricky issue of what all can be promised in election manifestos,especially those in the form of freebies.

Buttressing this viewpoint is an 11-page note sent by the Election Commission to presidents of six national parties and 54 state parties Monday where the election body has underlined that major democracies do not appear to have any legal provisions specifically for manifestos. The EC had written to 30 countries seeking their views on the practices and guidelines with regard to election manifestos and freebies.

Responses from several countries show that there are no legally enforceable provisions. “In major democracies such as the US,Sweden,Canada,the Netherlands and Austria,electoral authorities have no role in relation to manifestos,” says the Election Commission note.

Bhutan and Mexico are the only countries where the electoral authorities have power to vet manifestos and get certain type of content removed. An election manifesto in Bhutan cannot contain anything that seeks electoral gains on ground of religion,ethnicity,region,prerogatives of the King and the state and national identity,says the note.

The UK is another country where the electoral authority issues guidelines for campaign materials,which also applies to manifestos.

In the US,manifestos do not offer specific benefits but outline plans and policies that benefit large groups of population. State level election authorities do not include any provisions about political party platforms,the note says. “It is the party committee which governs internally and develops the platform of a party for a particular election,as per the Charter and bylaws of the party,” it says.

In many West European countries,manifestos mention more concrete policy choices along with budgetary implications which can be submitted to a court of audit wherever it exists.

Should the all-party meeting opt for self-regulation or guidelines that more or less amount to self regulation,it would virtually nullify the directive of the Supreme Court that had come down heavily on election freebies after a Chennai lawyer questioned largesse being distributed in the form of laptops,colour TVs and mixer grinders. While the court did rule that freebies in election manifestos did not come under corrupt practices,it had however directed the EC to frame guidelines in this regard.

Importantly,one of aspects that the SC had referred to was on whether the model code of conduct can be applied to election manifestos — to make it legally enforceable — even before announcement of poll schedule so that parties do not escape provisions by revealing manifestos in advance.

EC seeks parties’ suggestions on…

Broad framework of guidelines on election manifesto and freebies

What may be a reasonable window before announcement of election within which political parties may issue their manifesto so that the model code of conduct becomes applicable on them

Mechanism for ensuring compliance of guidelines to be

issued

Views with regard to freebies in election manifesto. What,according them,should be considered as freebies

Views on practicability of implementation of promises of freebies in reference to their

social and economic impact

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