The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Parties shy of polls before polls
- Fear of surveys brings opponents together

New Delhi, April 6: Political parties today unanimously demanded a ban on opinion and exit polls, though the Supreme Court had overturned an Election Commission prohibition to this effect in 1999.

“The unanimous opinion was that results of opinion polls should not be allowed to be published or made public from the date of notification of an election,” a press release of the poll panel said after an all-party meeting it convened today.

“Regarding exit polls, all the parties were of the firm view that when a general election is held in different phases, result of exit polls should not be permitted to be published until the close of poll in the last phase of election,” the release added.

According to the parties present, this would mean that exit-poll results should not be announced before 5 pm on May 10, the last phase of polling in this general election.

The demand, however, creates a dilemma for the poll panel as it had enforced such a ban in 1998 only to be overturned by the apex court that cited people’s right to information.

“The commission will have to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court again if it wants to re-impose the ban,” said Yashwant Deshmukh of C Voter, an organisation that conducts opinion polls.

Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal, however, said the panel need not seek legal approval for renewing the ban. A way out could be the promulgation of an ordinance, sources told PTI.

Sibal was jointly addressing the media with his BJP counterpart V.K. Malhotra, indicating the zero dissent among the parties on the issue.

The BJP, though placed ahead in opinion polls this time, is for the ban because it does not want to foreclose its right to reject in future such polls that may be unfavourable to the party.

All the parties maintained that opinion and exit polls, which often go awry, influence people even before they have cast their votes.

“If there is an exit poll or an opinion poll, it should not come in the middle of the election but only after the entire process is complete,” the CPM’s Nilotpal Basu said.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal, among the six national and 18 state-level parties present, even demanded a ban on astrological predictions.

The only disagreement among the parties was on personal attacks during campaigning.

Sibal, who raised the matter, demanded the poll panel take suo motu action against those guilty of slander.

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had recently made intemperate remarks against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul at a rally in his state.

But Malhotra objected, saying the slander debate hinged on how personal attacks are “defined”. The ADMK threw its weight behind Malhotra.

Also discussed was the apex court’s ban on political and surrogate ads in the electronic media and its directive to the panel to vet these before they go on air.

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