What is Model Code of Conduct? Should it be made legally binding or not? What is the significance and the shortcomings? To answer all these questions, read further.
The Model Code of Conduct is a series of regulations issued by the Election Commission to monitor the political parties and candidates ahead of elections to provide free and fair elections.
From the day the election calendar is announced until the day the results are revealed, the Model Code of Conduct is in operation. The Model Code of Conduct is not legally enforceable.
Kerala’s state assembly elections in 1960 marked the debut of MCC. It was largely supported by all parties in the Lok Sabha general elections of 1962, and it remained so in future general elections.
To control the “party in power” and stop it from obtaining an undue advantage during elections, the Election Commission inserted a section in 1979.
The Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission to include election manifesto guidelines in the MCC for the 2014 general elections.
Application of the Model Code of Conduct during Elections and Bye-Elections:
The model code of conduct is applicable across the nation during general elections for the House of People (Lok Sabha).
The code is in application throughout the State during general elections for the Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha).
The code would only be applied in the territory of the concerned Constituency during bye-elections if the constituency includes State Capital, Metropolitan Cities, or Municipal Corporations.
In all other cases, the MCC would be enforced in the entire district(s) covering the Constituency going for bye-elections.
Significance of Model Code of Conduct:
The Model Code of Conduct works to create a level playing field for political parties to carry out free and fair elections as required by Article 324. It reduces efforts by giving political parties the same set of instructions consistently.
Elections are conducted smoothly thanks to instructions given to voters, polling places, and political parties. For instance, only voters and those with a valid polling place pass are permitted entry.
Over the years, political parties from all sides have generally abided by the word and spirit of the Model Code of Conduct, showing unquestionable legitimacy.
Eliminating undue influence from the ruling party, for example, by forbidding new “Big ticket” announcements, bribes, etc., and judicial use of funds by forbidding the ruling party from using public funds for political campaigns.
It forbids candidates from using caste and religion-based slogans and thus results in harmony and upholding the law and order of the country.
It ensures an equal playing field for the opposition party. For instance, the ruling party cannot monopolize public parks and other areas.
The ruling party shouldn’t exert its influence over voters, elections, or rival political parties. The organizers of two or more candidates should get in touch to make sure the processions do not collide.
Model Code of Conduct includes provisions covering:
Political parties may only be criticized in terms of their policies, programs, work history, and accomplishments.
Activities including buying votes, intimidating voters, criticizing candidates based on unverified allegations, and appealing to caste and community sentiments are all forbidden.
If two or more candidates intend to march down the same path, organizers must make arrangements in advance to prevent a conflict. It is forbidden to carry and burn the effigies of anyone affiliated with rival political parties.
Appropriate badges or identity cards should be issued to all authorized party employees at polling places.
Voters must receive identity cards from them that are printed on plain (white) paper without any symbols or party or candidate names. Only voters and those with a valid polling place pass from the EC are permitted entry.
The EC will nominate observers to whom any candidates may report issues with the way the election is being conducted.
Party in power:
In 1979, the Model Code of Conduct introduced constraints that governed the actions of the party in power.
These rules, which were added in 2013, forbid parties from making pledges that have an excessive impact on voters and recommend that manifestos include information about how pledges will be fulfilled.
Arguments to make Model Code of Conduct Legally Binding:
Arguments in favor:
This will contribute to better deterrence between political parties and fewer code infractions overall.
In the opinion of the ECI and several other independent experts giving the MCC statutory backing is not preferred.
Each claimed offense will be heard by the court up to the Supreme Court. Elections typically take 45 days to finish, which is too little time compared to the court system’s inadequate delays.
The Indian Penal Code of 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973, and the Representation of the People Act of 1951 all contain provisions that can be used to enforce various MCC clauses.
Currently, to enforce MCC, the Election Commission uses the special powers granted to it by Article 324 of the Constitution.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 all have provisions that can be used to enforce specific MCC clauses.
Shortcomings of Model Code of Conduct:
Social media has made the line between private and public.
Implementing MCC has become difficult thanks to modern methods like live webcasting, making election-related content go “Viral,” using celebrities as “influencers,” etc. leading to a blurring of the line between them.
Election Commission lacks the resources and surveillance capabilities to enforce and penalize MCC violations on social media. On the other hand, Foreign entities manage digital businesses like Facebook.
In the digital age, it is challenging to follow money trails and poll expenditures. Many times, political parties’ proxies handle expenditure. And digital media is a powerful source of malicious, unconfirmed fake news.
Closed systems, such as Whatsapp, which is the biggest social media platform in the nation, are not covered by the electoral commission’s rules.
The code merely gives recommendations for candidates, it does not specify what the ECI may do with government agencies and political parties.
For instance, the abrupt transfer of top officials employed by State governments according to an Election Commission order affects the state’s administrative functioning.
Recently ECI ordered Kerala’s government to stop selling supply kits that included things like grains, lentils, and cooking oil. Amid an ongoing pandemic, this choice might not be sensible.
According to experts, the ruling party has a compliance deficiency.
The lack of compliance in the 2019 elections is a reflection of both the political parties disrespect for the MCC and the ECI’s incapacity to maintain its constitutional advantage through ongoing monitoring and tough enforcement.
Due to the MCC’s voluntary nature, the election commission mechanism must maintain its political neutrality.
The MCC’s illegal nature reduces parties’ sense of threat. Sometimes, execution certainty and ambiguous implementation methods coexist. And a lack of awareness among the voters regarding the nature and enforcement of MCC leads to poor reporting of violations to EC by voters.
Candidates who engage in election misconduct are not subject to disqualification by the Election Commission. In the best-case scenario, it might order the registration of a case.
Establishing special fast-track courts could help resolve instances involving election MCC violations more quickly.
The Law Commission noted in its report on electoral reforms from 2015 that the MCC only comes into effect from the time the Commission announces elections.
Before that, the ruling party can publish their advertisements which can give them an undue advantage and disadvantage to the other party candidates.
Hence, Government-sponsored advertisements should be restricted for a period of up to six months before the expiration date of the House or Assembly.
There is a need to establish fast track court or tribunal for MCC violation cases.
More technological resources, such as AI-based systems, can be used to halt violations on social media sites.
For instance, with the help of the internet app cVIGIL, voters can alert election officials immediately to any MCC infractions.
The Election Commission should be given more autonomy, similar to CAG, as this will enable it to take tougher action against influential politicians.
It is possible to consider giving MCC statutory support without impairing the EC’s authority.
Article written by Chetna Yadav.