President Pranab Mukherjee, while addressing the joint session of Parliament on Tuesday, called for a debate on the issue of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies.
The President said: “Frequent elections put on hold development programmes, disrupt normal public life, and impact essential services and burden human resource with prolonged periods of election duty. My government welcomes a constructive debate on simultaneous conduct of elections to Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies.”
“Funding of elections to eradicate the misuse of money power also needs to be debated. My government would welcome any decision taken by the Election Commission in this regard after consultations with political parties,” he added.
The issue of simultaneous elections is a contentious one that requires a thorough discussion on the floor of the House, and with state governments. Considering that the government and the opposition have been at loggerheads over the issue of demonetisation, leading to a complete washout of the winter session of Parliament, this is easier said than done.
The issue itself has several arguments for and against it.
According to government’s policy think-tank Niti Aayog, the most compelling reason for holding simultaneous polls is the impact of frequent elections on governance and policy making.
Other reasons cited include suspension of welfare activities due to frequent imposition of Model Code of Conduct (MCC), massive expenditures incurred by the government and other stakeholders on frequent elections, engagement of government personnel and other security forces for a prolonged period of time and black money.
The report points out that over the course of upcoming elections in various states and the general election till 2021, the MCC would be applicable for about four months or more every year, with the exception of 2020. This implies that development programmes in those states would be potentially hit, with only one-third of the entire time available for implementing such projects, the report adds.
But while the centre has listed these reasons, there are several counter views that must be taken into account.
The first of course is the operational viability of holding such a large-scale exercise. Some critics have also said that the move is politically motivated, and that it could impact voter behaviour; people could end up voting on national issues in state elections, the report adds.
Clearly, the jury is out on this subject and in the currently surcharged atmosphere post demonetisation, it remains to be seen whether a 'constructive debate' as called for by the President, can actually happen on the floor of the House.