The Election Commission (EC) amended the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) on Saturday prohibiting political parties from releasing their manifestos in the last 48 hours leading up to voting in each phase of the coming Lok Sabha elections.
The 17th Lok Sabha elections will be held in seven phases, between April 11 and May 19, and the results will be declared on May 23.
The above change has been made in Part 8 of the MCC, which deals with poll manifestos. The EC’s decision stems from the recommendation of a 14-member committee set up to revisit the MCC, Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act (which prohibits any form of poll campaign in the last 48 hours leading up to voting), and other related provisions in the wake of rapid media expansion.
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As first reported by The Indian Express on January 10, this panel had suggested an amendment under Part VIII (Guidelines on Election Manifestos) of the MCC “to fix a timeline, by way of an outer time limit, for the release of manifesto by political parties in an election, to maintain the sanctity of Section 126” of the RP Act.
On January 22, the EC wrote to all national and state political political parties seeking their views on a proposal that manifestos be released at least 72 hours before voting ends in the first phase of elections. A total of seven political parties — the Samajwadi Party, AIADMK, CPI, CPM, Shiv Sena, Lok Janshakti Party and Congress — shared their feedback, of which only the Congress opposed the amendment.
Although the EC’s proposal was to impose prohibition on manifesto release 72 hours ahead of the first phase of voting, the order issued on Saturday prevents parties from doing it during every election silence period. In other words, a political party cannot release its manifesto or supplementary manifesto in the last 48 hours leading up to voting on April 11, April 18, April 23, April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19.
In 2014, the BJP had released its Lok Sabha manifesto on the day of voting in the first phase. Although the Congress had complained to the EC that this would influence voters, the Commission was unable to act since the Model Code, at that time, was silent on the timing of manifesto release.
On Friday, implementing another recommendation of the 14-member committee, the EC asked all state and national political parties to advise their leaders and star campaigners to “refrain” from holding press conferences and giving media interviews on poll-related issues during the ‘silence’ period of each phase of polling.
Friday’s instructions assume significance against the backdrop of the controversy that had erupted when the EC had issued a notice to Congress president Rahul Gandhi for giving interviews to television channels a day before the second phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections in December 2017. This had evoked a strong reaction from the Congress, which pointed out that the Commission had not taken any action over airing of BJP president Amit Shah’s interview and Union minister Piyush Goyal’s press conference the same day as Rahul’s interview. The EC had later withdrawn the notice to Rahul.
“In a multi-phased election, the silence period of last 48 hours may be on in certain constituencies while campaign is ongoing in other constituencies. In such event, there should not be any direct or indirect reference amounting to soliciting support for parties or candidates in the constituencies observing the silence period,” the EC’s instructions state.
It further adds, “During the silence period, star campaigners and other Political Leaders should refrain from addressing the media by way of press conferences and giving interviews on election matter.”
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