MALAYSIA ASEAN/APEC LEAD CONSUMERIST DR JACOB GEORGE’S TAKE ON ELECTIONS!

Emulate India’s code of conduct for GE14

The Election Commission (EC) in some countries are mere brainless stooges. They confirm it the moment they open their mouths and issue statements sounding like politicians rather than statesmen selected to uphold honour and justice.

They are worse than parasites and simply the political hatchet men specially selected by the powers that be, for their long sustained benevolent and unflinching servitude to their political masters. Some may call them ‘mere running dogs’ but I will not be that vulgar.

But in some countries the ECs do justice to their selection and appointment and to the merits and tenets of democracy. One such is the Indian Election Commission.

I had witnessed them in action not only in the last election in 2011 but also in 2004 and the manner in which they carried out their task was just superb.

Whether you know it or not there is a model code of conduct and its values are universal provided your intentions are noble, ethical and serving the free and fair election module. And the code forbids rule by acts of betrayal, treason and worst fraud. How does this code operate?

As an illustration, in 2004 Deputy Indian Prime Minister L K Advani flew in an Indian Air Force helicopter from Bangalore to Tumkur in Karnataka to address an election meeting?

By the time Advani had completed his speech, the EC had announced the dates for the general election and enforced the Model Code of Conduct for parties and candidates. Advani was thus compelled to send the helicopter back and return to Bangalore by car.

Such is the power of the Model Code of Conduct.

The Election Commission through its Code of Conduct monitors the behaviour and actions of the political parties and their candidates in any elections.

1. What is the Model Code of Conduct?

It is a set of guidelines laid down by the Election Commission to govern the conduct of political parties and candidates in the run-up to an election.

2. What is the need for such a code of conduct?

It is intended to provide a level playing field for all political parties, to keep the campaign fair and healthy, avoid clashes and conflicts between parties, and ensure peace and order. Its main aim is to ensure that the ruling party, either at the federal level or at state level, does not misuse its official position to gain an unfair and vulgar advantage in an election. That there will be no institutionalised fraud and worst treason.

3. When does it come into force?

The Model Code of Conduct comes into force the moment an election is announced and remains in force till the results are declared.

In 2000, in India there was a tug of war between the central government and the Election Commission on the Model Code of Conduct.

The government went to the Supreme Court against the Commission’s ruling that the code of conduct comes into force the moment elections are announced. The government insisted it should be enforced only from the date of formal notification of each phase of election.

The Election Commission called an all-party meeting to settle the row. Eventually all parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, agreed unanimously to support its stand on the Model Code of Conduct.

That was democracy, people-power, and statesmanship in action.

4. To whom does the code apply?

It applies to all political parties, their candidates and polling agents, the government in power, and all government employees.

5. So what does the Model Code of Conduct mean for a ruling party?

In 2004 in India’s ministers, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were not allowed to combine their official visits with electioneering work. They also cannot use official/government machinery or personnel for electioneering work.

Public places for holding election rallies and helipads for flights in connection with elections are to be made available to all parties on the same terms and conditions on which they are used by the party in power.

Government institutions and enforcement agencies were expected to play a neutral role and not as active participants for the incumbents as in some countries.

6. Can ministries sanction grants out of the government’s discretionary funds during election time?

No. Ministers and other authorities cannot sanction grants and payments out of discretionary funds from the moment the elections are announced.

7. Can the government run an advertising campaign in the mass media?

Advertisements at the cost of the public exchequer or in some countries using the Ministry of Finance and misuse of official mass media for partisan coverage during an election have to be scrupulously avoided.

8. What are the other guidelines for ministers and other government officials?

Ministers and other government authorities should not announce or promise any financial grants to the people; they should not lay foundation stones for or inaugurate any projects; they should not promise public facilities like roads; and they should not make any ad hoc government appointments.

9. How do candidates and parties campaign when the code of conduct is in force?

Parties can issue their manifesto detailing the programmes they wish to implement if elected to government, the strengths of their leaders, and the failures of parties and leaders opposing them. They can use slogans to popularise and identify parties and issues, and they can distribute pamphlets and posters to the electorate.

They can hold rallies and meetings where candidates can persuade, cajole and enthuse supporters, and criticise opponents. Candidates can travel the length and breadth of the constituency to try to influence as many potential supporters as possible.

10. Can parties/candidates hold meetings wherever they want?

Yes, but the party or candidate has to inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any proposed meeting well in advance to enable them to make necessary arrangements for controlling traffic and maintaining order.

11. Can parties call for votes on communal lines?

No. The Model Code of Conduct strictly prohibits parties and candidates from making any appeals to caste or communal feelings, on race, religion, or pitting communities one against another aided by a racist vernacular media as in some countries for securing votes.

Mosques, churches, temples, and other places of worship also cannot be used for election propaganda. No party or candidate can indulge in any activity that may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension among different castes, communities, religious or linguistic groups.

12. Can parties criticise their opponents?

Yes, but the criticism of other political parties should be confined to their policies and programmes, past record and work. Parties and candidates should refrain from criticism of all aspects of private life not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties. Criticism of other parties or their workers based on unverified allegations or distortions should be avoided. Worst they should not use third parties to orchestrate all forms of allegations and gutter politicking.

13. What happens if a candidate or party does not obey the Model Code of Conduct?

The Election Commission has warned that any breach will be dealt with sternly. The Commission has the power to disqualify a candidate if s/he refuses to follow the Model Code of Conduct.

I salute the Indian Election Commission again for their commitment to democracy, fair play, accountability, good governance, transparency and zero tolerance for corruption and corrupt practices and not succumbing to direct and indirect attempts by the powers that be to manipulate and taint them.

They are unlike others ‘hunting with the hounds and running with the hares’- milking all the business advantages and perks from the incumbents domestically, then inexplicably they trade the shades in other forums putting on the face of reformers, which is the height of hypocrisy.