Time of Elections
Elections for the Lok Sabha and every State Legislative Assembly have to take place every five years, unless called earlier. The President can dissolve the Lok Sabha and call a general election before the five years period, if the Government can no longer command the confidence of the Lok Sabha, and if there is no alternative Government available to take over.
Governments have found it increasingly difficult to stay in power for the full term of a Lok Sabha in recent times, and so elections have often been held before the five-year limit has been reached.
The holding of regular elections can only be stopped by means of a constitutional amendment and in consultation with the Election Commission, and it is recognised that interruptions of regular elections are acceptable only in extraordinary circumstances.
Scheduling the Elections
When the five-year limit is up, or the legislature has been dissolved and new elections have been called, the Election Commission puts into effect the machinery for holding an election.
The Constitution states that there can be no longer than 6 months between the last session of the dissolved Lok Sabha and the recalling of the new House, so elections have to be concluded before then.
In a country as huge and diverse as India, finding a period when elections can be held throughout the country is not simple. The Election Commission, which decides the schedule for elections, has to take account of the weather, the agricultural cycle, exam schedules and religious festivals and public holidays.
On top of this there are the logistical difficulties that go with holding an election – sending out ballot boxes or EVMs, setting up polling booths, recruiting officials to oversee the elections.
The Commission normally announces the schedule of elections in a major Press Conference a few weeks before the formal process is set in motion. The Model Code of Conduct for guidance of candidates and Political Parties immediately comes into effect after such announcement.
The formal process for the elections starts with the Notification or Notifications calling upon the electorate to elect Members of a House. As soon as Notifications are issued, Candidates can start filing their nominations in the constituencies from where they wish to contest.
These are scrutinised by the Returning Officer of the constituency concerned after the last date for the same is over after about a week. The validly nominated candidates can withdraw from the contest within two days from the date of scrutiny. Contesting candidates get at least two weeks for political campaign before the actual date of poll. On account of the vast magnitude of operations and the massive size of the electorate, polling is held at least on three days for the national elections.
A separate date for counting is fixed and the results declared for each constituency by the concerned Returning Officer. The Commission compiles the complete list of Members elected and issues an appropriate Notification for the due Constitution of the House. With this, the process of elections is complete and the President, in case of the Lok Sabha, and the Governors of the concerned States, in case of State Legislatures, can then convene their respective Houses to hold their sessions.
The entire process takes between 5 to 8 weeks for the national elections, 4 to 5 weeks for separate elections only for Legislative Assemblies.
Techniques of election campaign and the tools employed by the parties and theindependent candidates are many:
- Election Manifesto
The parties issue their Election Manifestoes. A Manifesto is a Statement of great significance. It is “a formal Statement of the programme and objectives of a political party” It deals with issues such as restructuring of Centre-State relations, guarantees to religious or linguistic minorities, justice and judicial reforms, fiscal reform, economic growth, social justice, problems of the handicapped, health, nutrition, education, defence and world peace.
The Manifesto contains programmes and promises, with a view to attract the largest number of voters.
- Electioneering (Activities and Techniques to Persuade Voters)
The parties and the candidates usually make use of these techniques in order to carry their message to the voters; public meetings and rallies are organised and processions taken out. The party leaders, especially the crowd pullers, are assigned the task to address public meetings; advertisements are released to the press (the popular daily and weekly newspapers); and the Radio and the Television are pressed into service to broadcast the speeches and panel-discussions of leaders of various parties.
Now-a-days electronic media plays the most effective role in creating people’s awareness about programmes of the political parties. The party leaders give a series of interviews to newspapers and television agencies. Wide coverage is being given to all these events at regular intervals
- Polling Days
Polling is normally held on a number of different days in different constituencies, to enable the security forces and those monitoring the election to keep law and order and ensure that voting during the election is fair.
Ballot Papers and Symbols
After the nomination of candidates is complete, a list of competing candidates is prepared by the Returning Officer, and ballot papers are printed.
Ballot papers are printed with the names of the candidates (in languages set by the Election Commission) and the symbols allotted to each of the candidates. Candidates of recognised Parties are allotted their Party symbols.
The voting procedure in India strictly adheres to the principal of Secret Ballot. Polling in India is normally held on a number of different days in different constituencies, to enable the security forces and those monitoring the election to keep law and order and ensure that voting during the election is fair.
The days for the polls are fixed by the election commission and they are well publicized before all elections. Polling stations are usually set up in public institutions, such as, schools and community halls.
Each polling station is open for at least 8 hours on the day of election. The Election Commissioner has been instructed to employ the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail System or VVPAT, along with the Electronic Voting Machines according to the amendment of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 by a notification of 14th August, 2013 issued by the Government of India.
Electronic Voting Machines
The Electronic Voting Machines have been manufactured by two Central Government undertakings, namely, Electronics Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad and Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangalore have produced electronic voting machines. There are two models of the Electronic Voting Machines being used for the conduct of election in the country – existing model and upgraded model.
The Electronic Voting Machine operates on a 6 volts battery and can be used anywhere and under any conditions. It is tamperproof, error-free and easy to operate. Both the units of the machine are supplied in two separate carrying cases which are easily portable. The polling information once recorded in the machine is retained in its memory even when the battery is removed.
One ballot unit caters up to sixteen candidates. On the ballot unit, there is provision for display of the ballot paper containing the particulars of the election, the serial numbers and names of contesting candidates and the symbols respectively allotted to them.
Supervising Elections, Election Observers
The Election Commission appoints a large number of Observers to ensure that the campaign is conducted fairly, and that people are free to vote as they choose.
Election expenditure Observers keeps a check on the amount that each candidate and party spends on the election.
Counting of Votes
After the polling has finished, the votes are counted under the supervision of Returning Officers and Observers appointed by the Election Commission.
After the counting of votes is over, the Returning Officer declares the name of the candidate to whom the largest number of votes has been given as the winner.
In order to bring as much transparency as possible to the electoral process, the media are encouraged and provided with facilities to cover the election, although subject to maintaining the secrecy of the vote.
Media persons are given special passes to enter polling stations to cover the poll process and the counting halls during the actual counting of votes