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Govt toys with parallel polls
- Advani hints at combined early election

Pune, Aug. 2: The Centre is exploring the possibility of holding general elections along with Assembly polls in five states early next year, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani indicated today.

Advani told reporters that the NDA government has “informally” sounded members of the Election Commission about going back to the pre-1971 system in which parliamentary and Assembly elections were held simultaneously.

The deputy Prime Minister only spoke of the government’s hopes of reforming the system and did not set a time frame. But his remarks are being seen as a sign that the general elections will be held before the budget session, possibly in January.

Asked if the proposal would be implemented with the coming Lok Sabha polls, Advani said “a decision has to be taken”, adds PTI. But probed about which part of the year would suit such synchronised elections, he said: “The first quarter.”

The general elections are due in October 2004, but there has been speculation that they could be brought forward. Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram are scheduled for November this year. The Congress wants these elections a month later so that they do not coincide with Ramazan.

Explaining why the government was keen that central and state elections be synchronised, Advani said frequent polls come in the way of good governance because ruling parties are forced to take decisions with an eye on the ballot box.

“These five years in government have made us conscious of the fact that the continuing election mode in which the ruling party finds itself is a serious handicap to good governance. Every important decision, including the budget, is influenced by this,” Advani said. He blamed the problems in pushing through the economic and labour reforms on this.

“These days, we are seriously considering if somehow we could either reschedule the poll timetable or, if necessary, bring in change through a constitutional amendment to synchronise the Lok Sabha and state election routine.”

The government has not yet discussed its plans with Opposition parties. Among the allies, Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam has been consulted.

The thinking is that the current state governments can continue to function under caretaker chief ministers and have a new Assembly in place by the middle or end of January. The Constitution says there cannot be more than a six-month gap between two Assemblies.

Much will depend on the Election Commission’s reaction. The government will make its case that simultaneous elections will help reduce expenses and that the Centre will be in a position to spare paramilitary forces.

The Congress spoke in two voices. Spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy described the suggestion as “semi-academic speculation” and said: “If Advani is so keen on synchronisation, his government should advance Lok Sabha polls to November.”

But in Calcutta, senior leader Pranab Mukherjee echoed Advani and said a discussion was on at political and apolitical levels to evolve a mechanism for holding simultaneous polls.

Asked if he was taking over as BJP president, Advani refused to reply.

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