In firmness: Editorial on Election Commission losing its impartiality
Acitizen’s personal liberty and access to other rights in a democracy depend on effective State institutions. The Election Commission is therefore an institution of outstanding importance, because it must conduct the elections so that democratic principles are not tarnished. Questions were raised regarding the EC’s effectiveness in the Supreme Court as it was hearing a number of petitions proposing a different system of appointment for the Chief Election Commissioner and the two election commissioners. At present they are appointed by the prime minister advised by the council of ministers. With the EC appearing to become less effective in addressing breaches of the Model Code of Conduct and other violations relating to electoral practices, this system is being criticised as lacking in impartiality and apolitical balance. The speed with which a commissioner was appointed almost immediately after his voluntary retirement while the petitions were being heard resulted in reported comments and directions from the Supreme Court, as well as a vision of what an EC should be.
For the EC’s institutional integrity, what is needed is a firm and strong CEC who cannot be bulldozed by pressure from any quarter, be it from the prime minister or president. An institution responsible for superintending — the Supreme Court reportedly emphasised this — and directing, controlling and conducting every election would be useless if it lost its impartiality when pressed. A multi-party democracy is not easy to manage at election time. But awareness of an EC unbending about rules and conduct could bring about a change in the approach of all parties. The character of an election commissioner is thus the crux of the institution’s effectiveness, especially since there are only three officeholders at the centre of it. Besides, an honest and upstanding person may still have political bias that informs his or her actions. But neutrality could be achieved by the given structure of three commissioners. For these reasons, the method of and qualifications for appointment become exceedingly important. As of now, both are opaque, fuelling accusations of politics behind the choices. Whatever the system, the Indian people deserve an EC that will not only allow them to exercise their right to vote without fear but also penalise any party that violates the Model Code of Conduct and electoral rules in letter or spirit.