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Don’t just promise, tell how will you fulfil it, Election Commission tells political parties

Sunday, 2 February 2014 - 8:44am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

As political parties are currently engaged in drafting their manifestos to woo electorate ahead of the general elections, the Election Commission is set prevent them from including “imaginary” and “non-implementable” promises in their poll documents.

In deference to a Supreme Court judgment last July, the EC has come up with guidelines on contents of the election manifestos and bringing them under its model code of conduct. According to the EC move, political parties and candidates can no longer offer freebees. They will have to not only give rationale for the electoral promises but also elaborate the financial means for their implementation.

The Commission has asked all six national and 47 regional parties to send their comments by February 7 on a three-point draft guidelines it has readied on the basis of a consultation with the political parties five months ago. Citing the interest of transparency, level-playing field and credibility of promises, one of the guidelines require the manifestos to “reflect rationale for the promises and the way and means to meet their financial requirements.” It stresses that “trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled.”

The two other proposed guidelines on the manifestos are: Avoid promises that are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters, though no objection to the promises of welfare measures as directive principles enshrined in the Constitution enjoin upon the State to frame such measures; and Contain nothing repugnant to the ideals and principle enshrined in the Constitution, and be consistent with the letter and spirit of other provisions of the model code of conduct.

The EC seeks to curb such promises by bringing them under its model code of conduct. The apex court had made an exception to empower the Commission to implement guidelines on manifestos even before announcing the schedule of elections. The model code is not under any law, but the Election Commission has framed it under the inherent powers to it under Article 324.

The court had held in that judgment that “although the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people as it shakes the root of free and fair election to a large degree.” The court wanted guidelines framed by the Election Commission as it had been issuing instructions in the past under the Model Code “to see that the purity of the election process does not
get vitiated.”

A parliamentary panel headed by Goa’s Congress MP Shantaram Naik had flayed the Election Commission for assuming parliament’s powers to frame the laws and issuing orders and enforcing the model code “having no force of any law.” The panel had asked the parliament to debate and enact a proper law to give statutory backing to the model code, “leaving no vacuum for ECI to exercise its power which is residuary in nature.”

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