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Politics India

Postal ballots will potentially favour the ruling party: Sitaram Yechury

With Bihar elections due in November, the CPI(M) says larger postal ballots can increase instances of manipulation and malpractice 

Sabrangindia 30 Jun 2020

sitaram

In a key development in India’s democratic process, that is also a major change brought about in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Election Commission of India (ECI) is allowing postal ballots for infected voters. The move is also a strong indicator that elections to the Bihar Assembly will be held as scheduled in November 2020. The Bihar elections will be the first assembly elections held anywhere in India after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic earlier this year. 

With new protocols in place on all aspects of public and private lives, a massive, people-centric process of elections, and voting is going to  become a case study worldwide. The ECI has notified that it will allow those testing positive for Covid-19 to cast their vote via postal ballot, as they continue with their home isolation. A report in the Indian Express states that the Union Law Ministry had accepted the EC’s proposal to add “a new category of 'Covid-19 suspect or affected persons' under Rule 27A of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.” The voter will  have to provide proof of testing positive for Covid-19, “in a government healthcare facility or one designated by the government as a Covid hospital”. Those under home quarantine or institutional quarantine are also eligible for casting their vote via the postal ballot option.

So far, a Law Ministry amendment in the Conduct of the Election Rules had allowed people with disabilities, and those who were 80-years-old and above, to opt for postal ballot during the elections. 

However, on June 19, the law ministry also allowed those over 65 years of age, considered ‘vulnerable’ under the Covid-19 protocol, to opt for postal ballot. This move has raised an alert amongst the Opposition. It is the CPI(M) who has been the first to raise their concerns. CPI(M) General Secretary, Sitaram Yechury, said that the ECI must consult political parties, before announcing  such decisions. He has already written a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, Sunil Arora, and strongly objected to the “unilateral measures” taken by the ECI in “altering electoral procedures,” without consulting political parties.

Yechuri added that it was necessary to have a consensus among political parties and the ECI before introducing new voting practices. The new rules, he added, will adversely affect the verifiability of a large number of voters, thus, transparency and integrity of the process. He says this is going to benefit the party in power in the state which gains “leverage” because it is the incumbent administration that will organise the postal ballots.

“With the unresolved question of opaque electoral bonds on poll funding, which remains pending before the Supreme Court, where the ECI  has itself agreed with us that this poses a major challenge in  monitoring and supervising income/expenditure, this new use of postal ballots will further aggravate the situation in potential favour of  the ruling party,” he wrote in his letter to Arora.

Yechury said he and his party were “greatly disturbed” by the ECI’s bypassing of the “established practice consulting political parties” before announcing such measures. Yechuri's letter said, “In the past, the ECI, despite the wide ranging and comprehensive powers under Article 324 for ‘control and superintendence’ of elections mandated by the Constitution, has always insisted that they will not exercise this power unilaterally”. This, said Yechury had created a “healthy precedent of recognising the political parties, representing the people, as principal stakeholders.” 

Yechury said that the latest changes in the election rules, “both in October, 2019 and that on June 19, 2020 have not been preceded by any consultation with the political parties whatsoever.” He has questioned the “tearing hurry” and said that this new rule has been quickly put in place “on account of the impending Bihar Assembly elections scheduled to be held in November, 2020.”

According to the veteran leader, the “physical verifiability of the voters” is the “bedrock of integrity”. And if more people are allowed to undertake a postal ballot they are left out of this verification. This he says assumes “great significance because of instances of manipulation and malpractice even with the comparatively low number of  postal ballots used by service personnel on election duty.”

He reminded the ECI about the importance of “forging a consensus” while changing electoral procedures. “It will be pertinent to recall that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), a major electoral reform, was arrived at through the consensus of the entire spectrum of political parties. Even though this is not backed by statutory empowerment, it has never been questioned.” This practice he added, “reinforced transparency” and was appreciated across the political spectrum.

Yechury has asked that the ECI not to unilaterally proceed in implementing these changes without  consulting the political parties.


Related:

RJD on shaky ground in Bihar?

The “massive mandate” of 2019 and the role of the Election Commission

 

Postal ballots will potentially favour the ruling party: Sitaram Yechury

With Bihar elections due in November, the CPI(M) says larger postal ballots can increase instances of manipulation and malpractice 

sitaram

In a key development in India’s democratic process, that is also a major change brought about in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Election Commission of India (ECI) is allowing postal ballots for infected voters. The move is also a strong indicator that elections to the Bihar Assembly will be held as scheduled in November 2020. The Bihar elections will be the first assembly elections held anywhere in India after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic earlier this year. 

With new protocols in place on all aspects of public and private lives, a massive, people-centric process of elections, and voting is going to  become a case study worldwide. The ECI has notified that it will allow those testing positive for Covid-19 to cast their vote via postal ballot, as they continue with their home isolation. A report in the Indian Express states that the Union Law Ministry had accepted the EC’s proposal to add “a new category of 'Covid-19 suspect or affected persons' under Rule 27A of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.” The voter will  have to provide proof of testing positive for Covid-19, “in a government healthcare facility or one designated by the government as a Covid hospital”. Those under home quarantine or institutional quarantine are also eligible for casting their vote via the postal ballot option.

So far, a Law Ministry amendment in the Conduct of the Election Rules had allowed people with disabilities, and those who were 80-years-old and above, to opt for postal ballot during the elections. 

However, on June 19, the law ministry also allowed those over 65 years of age, considered ‘vulnerable’ under the Covid-19 protocol, to opt for postal ballot. This move has raised an alert amongst the Opposition. It is the CPI(M) who has been the first to raise their concerns. CPI(M) General Secretary, Sitaram Yechury, said that the ECI must consult political parties, before announcing  such decisions. He has already written a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, Sunil Arora, and strongly objected to the “unilateral measures” taken by the ECI in “altering electoral procedures,” without consulting political parties.

Yechuri added that it was necessary to have a consensus among political parties and the ECI before introducing new voting practices. The new rules, he added, will adversely affect the verifiability of a large number of voters, thus, transparency and integrity of the process. He says this is going to benefit the party in power in the state which gains “leverage” because it is the incumbent administration that will organise the postal ballots.

“With the unresolved question of opaque electoral bonds on poll funding, which remains pending before the Supreme Court, where the ECI  has itself agreed with us that this poses a major challenge in  monitoring and supervising income/expenditure, this new use of postal ballots will further aggravate the situation in potential favour of  the ruling party,” he wrote in his letter to Arora.

Yechury said he and his party were “greatly disturbed” by the ECI’s bypassing of the “established practice consulting political parties” before announcing such measures. Yechuri's letter said, “In the past, the ECI, despite the wide ranging and comprehensive powers under Article 324 for ‘control and superintendence’ of elections mandated by the Constitution, has always insisted that they will not exercise this power unilaterally”. This, said Yechury had created a “healthy precedent of recognising the political parties, representing the people, as principal stakeholders.” 

Yechury said that the latest changes in the election rules, “both in October, 2019 and that on June 19, 2020 have not been preceded by any consultation with the political parties whatsoever.” He has questioned the “tearing hurry” and said that this new rule has been quickly put in place “on account of the impending Bihar Assembly elections scheduled to be held in November, 2020.”

According to the veteran leader, the “physical verifiability of the voters” is the “bedrock of integrity”. And if more people are allowed to undertake a postal ballot they are left out of this verification. This he says assumes “great significance because of instances of manipulation and malpractice even with the comparatively low number of  postal ballots used by service personnel on election duty.”

He reminded the ECI about the importance of “forging a consensus” while changing electoral procedures. “It will be pertinent to recall that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), a major electoral reform, was arrived at through the consensus of the entire spectrum of political parties. Even though this is not backed by statutory empowerment, it has never been questioned.” This practice he added, “reinforced transparency” and was appreciated across the political spectrum.

Yechury has asked that the ECI not to unilaterally proceed in implementing these changes without  consulting the political parties.


Related:

RJD on shaky ground in Bihar?

The “massive mandate” of 2019 and the role of the Election Commission

 

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