Monday , 27 May 2019

What EC Can Learn From Goa Poll 2017

In the run-up to the Assembly elections, the law enforcing officials seized cash, liquor, bikes and white goods worth over Rs 4 crore, suspected to be meant for bribing voters. Shrewd politicians might have devised newer ways to beat the law to distribute cash and goods which probably escaped seizure. Word of mouth reports suggest some candidates did easily manage to send cash bribes to families a few days before the polling. Even the seizures have come to a naught, as no political party or candidate has come forward to lodge a formal complaint; so poll officials have no first information report to start the probe. Besides, several complaints were received on the phone by the office of the CEO relating to poll code violations but the complainants failed to follow up the matter, as a result of which the complaints could not be pursued. Cannot the election officials on their own take cognizance of seizure of cash and goods and get a thorough probe done by the income tax and other departments into who ordered them and what for? No action would mean the culprits involved in illegalities would get away, defeating the very purpose of fair and free elections which the ECI has been working hard to ensure.
The Election Commission has been taking measures to prevent influencing of voters through inducements by parties and candidates, but candidates have become cleverer in avoiding the eyes of the flying squads. The Election Commission has wide powers during the election process but its officials are handicapped as there are legal and administrative constraints and they cannot take action on their own and have to depend on complaints from candidates or their agents. It would be in the fitness of things that the laws are changed to grant adequate powers to the election officials to order investigation into seizures of cash and goods without waiting for a formal complaint from candidates or their agents.
The fact that despite the seizures nobody came forward to lodge formal complaints indicates that politicians being birds of the same feather would not do anything to hurt each other in this respect, because then the other side can also file complaints in order to pay them back in the same coin. It is widely believed among voters that the animosity seen during electioneering is just limited to winning over the voters using one means or the other and that since everybody uses tricks to get the voters to one’s favour the opponents look the other way and allow things to happen. It is not that electoral malpractices have not taken place in the state in this election or in the past ones. There have been cases of law-abiding citizens alerting the officials of malpractices but despite the alerts hardly anyone has been caught. Despite prevalence of malpractices there have also been no cases in the state in which a political party or candidate has taken the cases of electoral malpractices to their logical conclusion.
It is also true at the same time that there is a sizeable number of voters who, for reasons of low family income or otherwise, feel that election is the golden time to get the best deal from politicians as it is seldom that the promises made to them are implemented to their satisfaction. The ECI declared stringent measures to ensure free and fair elections in the state while announcing the election schedule and enforcing the code of conduct; but it failed to ensure that the directives to check the transportation of goods into the state from other states were issued and enforced immediately, thus giving the unscrupulous elements a chance to manipulate the law to their advantage. The directives came in the second half of January, though the code of conduct came into effect on January 4 and ‘owners’ of the goods could use the delayed order to their advantage and use their contacts to convince the authorities that the goods were not meant for use as bribes. It is widely believed that after maintaining vigilance in the initial days the authorities were a bit lax during the last 48 hours before polling, allowing unscrupulous elements to use money power to buy votes. That the authorities were either at a loss or not very vigilant is apparent from the fact that hardly any seizure was made during the crucial hours preceding the voting. To ensure that the illegalities in the elections are prevented, the Election Commission must announce and enforce the directives well in advance and much more thoroughly in order to give no room to the unscrupulous elements to influence voters with inducements.