- The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) comprises a set of guidelines designed to regulate the behavior of political parties and candidates before elections, with the aim of ensuring a fair and transparent electoral process.
- Article 324 of the Indian Constitution empowers the Election Commission of India (ECI) to oversee elections, and the MCC comes into effect from the announcement of the election schedule until the announcement of the results.
- Initially introduced during the 1960 assembly elections in Kerala, the MCC was subsequently adopted by the Election Commission (EC) for mid-term elections in 1968 and 1969.
- Arguments against legalizing the MCC: Delay in completing elections: The Election Commission (EC) argues against making the MCC legally enforceable due to concerns that it could lead to a rise in legal cases, causing delays from lower courts to the Supreme Court and potentially being misused.
- Limitation on EC’s powers: Legalizing the MCC could impose constraints on the EC’s discretionary powers to ensure free and fair elections, limiting its flexibility in dealing with unforeseen situations.
- Impact on consensus spirit: The MCC was formulated based on consensus among political parties. Any attempt to bind it legally might undermine the spirit of the consensus reached.
- Infrastructural challenges: Legalizing the MCC could result in a surge in legal cases, placing an additional burden on the existing judicial system in the country.
However, in 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice recommended granting legal status to the model code of conduct. It suggested incorporating the MCC into the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
Some additional reasons supporting the statutory backing for the MCC include:
- Absence of classification of violations: The MCC lacks specific punishments for various violations, leaving the application of the code solely at the discretion of the EC.
- Prevention of arbitrariness and bias: Without specific norms guiding its powers, the EC’s decisions may be perceived as arbitrary or biased, reducing public trust in the electoral process. Statutory backing would promote timely decisions on alleged offenses.
- Existing enforceable provisions: Many provisions of the MCC are already covered by various laws and are enforceable, such as secrecy of voting and electoral offenses under the Representation of People’s Act. Granting statutory backing to the remaining provisions would not unduly delay case resolution.
- Incorporating the MCC as a law with clear procedures, delineated powers of the EC, classification of punishments, and a time-bound procedure for addressing complaints appears beneficial.
- The Election Commission should retain responsibility for implementing the MCC as a quasi-judicial body instead of burdening the judiciary.
- Increasing public awareness about the MCC would enable voters to hold parties and candidates accountable for non-compliance through their votes.
- Encouraging parties and candidates to practice fair election campaigns without relying solely on code enforcement would foster self-responsibility.
Preserving the credibility of the Election Commission is vital for upholding Indian democracy. Therefore, the ECI and the government should take concrete measures to address the concerns associated withthe MCC, ensuring public trust in the ECI and the conduct of free and fair elections in India is not eroded.