Perhaps, every political system operationalizes the mechanism of elections to project its legitimacy.
Elections comprise a system of rules and procedures whereby a person or group of persons are chosen to perform some task on the part of the choosers. But, there is no unanimity on the role of election.
For, in authoritarian regimes they are limited to ensuring the maintenance of status-quo, in democratic system they are change oriented.
1. Role of Elections:
If democratic norms are observed, election can be helpful in
i. Political Socialization and political participation
ii. Providing leaders for political process
iii. Ensuring legitimate government
iv. Political education of the masses
v. Resolving political conflict by peaceful means
vi. Peaceful transfer of power
It is by virtue of its significant functions that S.M. Lipset hailed elections as the “expression of democratic class struggle.”
2. Election Commission:
A three member commission entrusted with the task of supervising and conducting elections. It consists of a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
Every Election Commissioner has a term of six years from the date he/she assumes office or till he attains the age of 65 years (whichever is earlier).
The Chief Election commissioner cannot be removed from his office, except in a like manner and on like grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court. All the three members are entitled to the same salary and other facilities, as are provided to a judge of the Supreme Court.
1. Prepare, revise and maintain the voter’s list.
2. Delimitation of Constituencies.
3. Advises the President and Governor regarding electoral matters.
4. Determine criteria for recognizing political parties.
5. Settle election disputes.
Electoral Provisions in Indian Constitution:
Apart from Article 324-329 (dealing exclusively) there are provision in the Acts of Parliament. Elections are explicitly mentioned in Part XV of the Constitution.
Provides for a Election Commission to supervise, control and direct the elections to the office of President, Vice President, Parliament and State Legislatures.
President has been conferred the power to increase or decrease the number of election commissioners.
Provides for one general electoral roll.
Provides for Adult suffrage i.e. equal right to vote to persons of 18 years age.
The legislative power as regards the process of election is vested in the Parliament.
Confers similar powers to the state legislatures.
Prohibits the courts to enquire into validity of law as regards delimitation of constituencies. It also lays down disputes regarding election can be called into question only after declaration of result.
Besides these constitutional provisions, there are electoral laws : Representation of People Act 1950 and 1951. Presidential and Vice Presidential Act 1952, Registration of Electors Rules 1960, Conduct of Election Rules 1961, Election Symbol Order, 1968 etc
5. Electoral Dynamics:
Elections are one of the most central political processes in India. All sections of the society remain entangled with the electoral politics. That is why D.L. Seth observes that elections “cannot be ignored while formulating any perspective of the Indian political system.”
The change in political milieu from the one party dominion phase to multiparty coalition era is reflection of changing allegiance of people expressed through elections. Taken in this perspective, elections have become tool for analysis of social change, democratic transformation and legitimacy of government.
However, the expediency with which elections are held and practices which are followed during the elections belief such commitments. According to Prof. Sushila Kaushik, “more than just important political events, they have been a kind of national festival or tamasha, a source of entertainment.
The electoral outcomes are fragmented on the basis of caste, creed, region and religion. Most often electoral outcomes reflect that ideology has taken a back seat. Common national issues seldom become a part of electoral campaigns.
The contradictions of modernization and development, together with frequency of elections have robbed the parties of genuine issues. As a result, hitherto dormant primordial loyalties and vested interests have come to the fore. Regional and linguistic resources are exploited for electoral gains.
The sudden outburst of violence and malpractices of numerous kinds have become an integral part of electoral process. Even the bureaucracy and military seems to serve their political masters or caste directors. Sudden influx of media barons, former bureaucrats, big industrialists and liquor mafias highlights the importance of elections in India.
Under these circumstances, enlightened citizenry, media and intelligential seem to be the only alternative to make elections a democratic process. Apart from it, a far reaching change is required in institutional functioning. This could be done through a nationwide debate and evolving a national consensus.
Moreover, the leadership needs to be sensitive to these issues because the throbbing polity is reaching its climax. The situation has reached to a level where people may blow the democratic edifice itself.