Nagaland Elections 2018: Can the Election Commission clamp down on money, muscle power?

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Naga Republic News

 

Despite attempts to put into effect clean elections for the upcoming Nagaland Assembly elections, the situation on the ground continues to be influenced by money and muscle power, including diktats from traditional bodies favouring support for their candidates of choice. Both are probably the bedrock of the corrupt electoral system currently in place.

 

Against this backdrop, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Abhijit Sinha warned that strong action will be taken against those village councils that passed resolutions in support of some candidates and that even candidates being favoured through such resolutions would also be held accountable. Speaking to the media, Sinha said instructions were very clear and that action would be taken against those violating the directives.

 

The CEO who represents the Election Commission of India (ECI) has clearly stated that village councils interfered with right of individuals in freely exercising their franchise by taking such decisions. Such decisions attract legal proceedings against both the council involved and the candidate favoured, the CEO said.

 

Sinha further warned that action would be initiated against anyone not allowing voters to exercise their franchise freely on the basis of village council decisions. He said the message in this regard had been conveyed to all Deputy Commissioners (DCs) and Superintendents of Police (SPs).

 

Meanwhile addressing media persons at the Media Cell, CEO Office on Wednesday, February 21, the CEO was clear cut in pointing out that ‘proxy voting is illegal’. The CEO cautioned that neither the Head of the family nor the Village Council was allowed to vote for others. In this regard, the Presiding Officers and the Polling parties have been directed not to allow such malpractices in their assigned Polling Stations.

 

“If such malpractices are detected the votes polled at that Polling Station will become null and void and action will be initiated against the defaulter as well as the Polling Officials”, the CEO stated.

 

Further it was pointed out that only persons authorized by the Election Commission are allowed to enter the Polling Station. “One or two authorized persons may be allowed for a short period at a time. The persons entering the polling station should not go near the voting compartment nor interfere in the polling process so that secrecy of voting is maintained”.

 

It will be of interest to note whether the ECI will actually clamp down on such practices which amounts to use of money power, booth capturing and proxy voting. During earlier Assembly Elections in Nagaland despite witnessing such illegal practices, the ECI was unable to enforce any of the tough measures it had put out.

 

To refresh public memory especially in Nagaland, the Election Commission of India had actually countermanded elections in Tamil Nadu very recently. The ECI had cancelled the bye-poll to Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency in Chennai, scheduled for April 12, 2017 due to large-scale malpractice by candidates and political parties. The seat had fallen vacant with the death in December 2016 of J Jayalalithaa.

 

In the order, the commission said:

 

“…the Commission is fully satisfied that the current electoral process… has been seriously vitiated on account of unlawful activities of the candidates and political parties and their workers by bribing the electors and unlawfully inducing them by offering money and other gifts of consumable items to woo them in their favour. In the Commission’s considered opinion, allowing the current electoral process to proceed and conduct the poll…in such vitiated atmosphere would severely jeopardize the conduct of free and fair election in the said Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar Assembly Constituency.”

 

Further it may be mentioned that under provision 58A in the RP Act, inserted in 1989, the Election Commission can also cancel polls if muscle power has been used or booths have been captured to influence the outcome of elections.

 

Meanwhile, of the 2,194 polling stations for upcoming Nagaland Assembly election, a shocking 1048 have been identified as critical, 519 as vulnerable and 627 as normal. In order to clamp down on booth capturing and bogus voting the ECI has been trying to identify those polling stations where such malpractices take place. In recent elections across India, the ECI has taken initiative to identify “critical Polling Stations” and the measures to be taken to ensure free and fair elections. In this regard, the ECI has laid down the criteria for identification of critical Polling Stations.

 

The ECI has put in place a mechanism whereby the “polling station wise election results available…with reference to the past general election shall be analyzed”. And “all such Polling Stations where percentage votes polled was more than 90% and where more than 75 % of votes have been polled in favour of one candidate shall be identified as critical Polling Stations”.

 

The fact that 1048 polling stations in Nagaland have been identified as ‘critical’ and another 519 as ‘vulnerable’ would mean that only 627 polling station of the total 2194 is declared as normal.        This is indication that the principle of one man one vote is almost redundant in Nagaland. It will be interesting to see how the vote outcome in polling stations turns out.

 

In order to deter money power, proxy voting and other illegal practices, the CEO should not hesitate to cancel polling in those polling station or constituency. The Election Commission of India should issue a prior warning that similar to what it did in the bye-poll to Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency in Chennai where huge bribes were used to entice voters and subsequently voting cancelled, the same yardstick should apply in Nagaland.

 

To recall, on June 7, 2017 the Nagaland Chief Secretary Pankaj Kumar had issued an order to ensure universal adult suffrage to every eligible Indian citizen. The order also mentioned about maintaining secrecy of vote by electors. The order goes on to warn against the offence of booth capturing and also the open declaration of support in favour of a particular candidate or political party by the village, khel, ward or community.

 

With enough provision in the statute book to curb malpractices during election, it is now up to the ECI to prove that it is there to enforce the rule of law.

 

 

In : Nagaland, NEWS

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