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Simultaneous polls: Advantages and disadvantages

Simultaneous elections refer to holding the elections to Lok Sabha and state Legislative Assemblies simultaneously once in five years. At present, elections to the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies are held separately, except in 2014 when elections to assemblies of undivided Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim were held along with elections to Lok Sabha.

In fact, the idea of simultaneous election is not new to India; in 1951-52 the first general election to the Lok Sabha was held with all state assemblies. The practice of simultaneous elections continued till the general election of 1967. In 1968, with the premature dissolution of some state assemblies the practice was discontinued, the Lok Sabha itself was prematurely dissolved in 1970. As a result of premature dissolution and extension of the terms of Lok Sabha and state assemblies, the cycle of simultaneous elections got disturbed.

Advantages of simultaneous election

Holding election separately to Assembly and Lok Sabha every 5 years will cost thousands of crores to the public exchequer. The money saved through holding simultaneous elections can be utilised for the developmental works.

Political parties have to spend huge amount in the election just to ensure their candidates win. As there are elections every year in at least 3 or 4 states, the political parties are always in poll mode which affects developmental works. If the elections are held together, it will reduce the role of black money in the elections.

Due to elections each year, key leaders holding posts in government are tied up for months in campaigning across the country, leaving the functioning of their government in the hands of the bureaucracy. Moral code of conduct also restricts a lot of economic activity and that leads to a financial dent on the economy.

During elections, central police forces including paramilitary forces in addition to state police have to be deployed. This costs huge amount of money and not to forget, the security forces also are diverted from their core mandate of ensuring internal security. If elections are held simultaneously, it will allow the security forces to devote to their core duties for the rest of the period.

Disadvantages of simultaneous election

As the term of Lok Sabha and Assembly is fixed at 5 years unless dissolved earlier, how can the Lok Sabha or the state legislatures can be dissolved before the completion of full term? If the party in power loses majority in the Lok Sabha or the state legislature, then the President or the Governor can dissolve the Lok Sabha or the Assembly.

India has a parliamentary democracy with federal set up. With the emergence of strong national and regional parties, it would be challenging to successfully implement the idea of synchronised elections. Also, holding simultaneous elections will disown today’s reality of fragmented polity at the state level where coalitions are the order of the day. And where there are coalitions, there is bound to be political re-alignment which will consequently cause changes in the assembly, even leading to its early dissolution.

So instead of accepting this aspect of Indian democracy, simultaneous elections bring in a presidential type of governance where the state assemblies no longer can decide their own path and have to be in existence for 5 years with a minority party in power.

Notwithstanding the benefits of simultaneous elections, the cost to the Indian democracy in terms of playing havoc with the cardinal principle of rule by the majority will be far more than any savings to be realised to the public exchequer. This will also bring in dictatorial tendencies in the government of the day by reducing their accountability to the Lok Sabha or the state assembly since they cannot be removed from office even after losing the confidence of the House.

It is observed in the past that holding simultaneous elections will favour one political party, probably the party at the Centre. With the social media, it is possible for the political parties to influence the voters at remote areas of the constituency without holding election rallies.

Countries where simultaneous elections are held

In South Africa, elections to national and provincial legislatures are held simultaneously once in five years and after two years municipal elections are held. Similarly in Sweden, simultaneous elections to national legislature (Riksdag), provincial legislature/county council (landsting) and local bodies/municipal Assemblies (Kommunfullmaktige) are held on a fixed date.

                                                           -NAVEED AHAMAD

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