One nation, one election: The arguments for and against the proposal

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired an all party meeting which discussed the simultaneous elections proposal of the BJP-led government.
 One nation, one election: The arguments for and against the proposal
One nation, one election: The arguments for and against the proposal

Should India hold simultaneous elections to the Parliament, all state Assemblies, and to the local bodies? This is the basic question underlying discussions on the Modi government’s ‘one nation, one election’ (ONOE) proposal. On Wednesday, the PM called for an all party meeting to discuss ONOE, among other issues. Several regional parties gave the meeting a pass, while others used the meeting to bargain a better deal for their states in return for support for ONOE.

But what exactly is the government proposing, and what are the arguments for and against ONOE? Here’s a brief guide to understanding the issue and the various opinions on the matter.

One nation, one election, or simultaneous elections, would mean that instead of having several elections happening across the country every year, elections will be held only once in five years – either in a single phase, or more practically, in multiple phases. For instance, if the government does choose to go the ONOE way, and all legal hurdles are cleared, voters in Tamil Nadu for instance will vote for the central government and the state government at the same time, perhaps in 2023.

People who support ONOE say there are several advantages to simultaneous elections:

  • The cost of conducting elections will come down, since the personnel required to conduct elections will be brought down. Although ONOE would mean the Election Commission of India would need to buy a lot more EVMs – the Law Commission of India estimated the cost of buying enough EVMs would be to the tune of Rs 4,500 crore – in the long run, this cost will even out, say those pro-ONOE.

  • It will help elected governments and ruling parties focus on governance, instead of preparing for elections somewhere or the other in the country. This applies more to national parties than regional parties.

  • It will stop policy paralysis because of Model Code of Conduct being in place multiple times in the five-year tenure of government, whether at the Centre or in the states.

The Law Commission of India was asked to prepare a report last year on simultaneous elections, and their feasibility, by the government of India. The Commission submitted its report in August 2018, and said it was in favour of ONOE – however, it also stressed that simultaneous elections are not possible unless there are amendments to the Constitution, and to other laws.

The Constitutional issues with ONOE are:  

  • Articles 83 and 172 of the Constitution, which guarantees five years to every elected Lok Sabha and Assembly respectively, ‘unless sooner dissolved’ will have to be amended.

  • Articles 85(1) and 174(1) stipulate that the intervening period between the last session of the House of the People / State Legislative Assemblies and the first Session of the subsequent House / Assemblies shall not exceed six months. So if ONOE comes in – what happens if there is a hung Assembly/Parliament situation? What if a government falls due to a no-confidence motion? What if a representative dies one year into their tenure?

  • Article 356, which deals with President’s rule, may need to be amended. Article 356 comes into force only if there is a failure of constitutional machinery in a state – so for President’s rule to be put in place for the sake of simultaneous elections is problematic.

  • The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution – which is the anti-defection law – will have to be reconsidered if Assemblies and the Lok Sabha must ensure continuous governance for five years, if the ruling party does not have a large mandate.

There are also several other concerns, people who oppose ONOE argue:

  • Simultaneous elections are against the federal structure of the Constitution. It forces the voter to think of national and state issues at the same plane, and will take away the gains made by regional parties over the years and favour national parties, they say.

  • Amending Articles 174 and 356 – which deals with ‘Provisions in case of failure of constitutional machinery in State’, or President’s rule – will alter the basic structure of the Constitution and will impinge on federalism.

  • The international examples given by those pro-ONOE – like Sweden, Belgium and South Africa – cannot be compared to a country like India, whose population and area is many times that of the smaller countries.

  • Dilution of Tenth Schedule – the anti-defection law – will lead to horse trading.

  • ONOE is not feasible: if a central government that is made up of a coalition faces a situation where an ally pulls out, and the government falls, elections will have to be conducted in all state governments, too, within six months, even if there is no issue in those states. And vice-versa.

  • Argument about MCC paralysing policy making is overstated and untrue – it only stops ruling parties from using the government machinery for electoral gains.

You can read the Law Commission of India’s report on the issue here.

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