The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections, to ensure free and fair elections. This is in keeping with Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives the Election Commission the power to supervise elections to the Parliament and state legislatures.
Key provisions of the Model Code of Conduct
The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, party in power, and election manifestos. Major provisions of the MCC are outlined below.
- General Conduct: Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work. Activities such as: (a) using caste and communal feelings to secure votes, (b) criticising candidates on the basis of unverified reports, (c) bribing or intimidation of voters, and (d) organising demonstrations or picketing outside houses of persons to protest against their opinions, are prohibited.
- Meetings: Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
- Processions: If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash. Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
- Polling day: All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges. These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.
- Party in power: The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power. Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same. The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections
- Election manifestos: Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.
S. Subhramaniam Balajee Vs Govt of Tamil Nadu
Distribution of freebies shakes the root of free and fair elections. The court directed EC to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with Political parties. No manifestos during Prohibitary period i.e. 18 hrs ending with the hour fixed for conclusion of Poll.Manifestos should indicate ways and means to meet financial requirement for delivering the promises.
Issue with MCC:
- It is observed that since the MCC comes into operation only from the date on which the Commission announces elections, the government can release advertisements prior to the announcement of elections. It noted that this gives an advantage to the ruling party to issue government sponsored advertisements that highlights its achievements, which gives it an undue advantage over other parties and candidates. Therefore, the Commission recommended that a restriction should be imposed on government-sponsored advertisements for up to six months prior to the date of expiry of the House/Assembly.
- The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the MCC legally binding. In a report on electoral reforms, the Standing Committee observed that most provisions of the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, mentioned above. It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
According to the Election Commission, MCC will also apply to content posted by political parties and candidates on the Internet, including on social media sites. In 2013, the Commission laid down guidelines to regulate the use of social media by parties and candidates. Candidates have to provide their email address and details of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc, and add the expenditure on advertisements posted on social media to their overall expenditure for the election.
Opinion and Exit Poll:
The ECI held its first consultation with political parties on exit and opinion polls on December 22, 1997. In the meeting, representatives of most national and state parties said these polls were unscientific and biased. Political parties complained that these polls were sponsored by the opposition parties and this may have a distorted effect on the mentality of the voters.
Bans are limited only to Exit Polls
- In 2004, the ECI approached the Law Ministry, along with the support of six national parties and 18 state parties, with a proposal for the amendment of the Representation of the People’s Act to provide for a ban on both exit and opinion polls during a period specified by the Commission. The recommendation was accepted in part, and in February 2010, restrictions were imposed only on exit polls through the introduction of Section 126(A) of the Act.
- Section 126A of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951, puts a ban on exit polls from the period between the commencements of the poll until half an hour after the closing of the final phase of the poll.
Opinion Poll is not banned because:
It is because EC directives has been challenged in SC on the ground that it violates their Freedom of speech and expression.
Directive on Opinion Poll
Section 126A of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951, puts a ban on exit polls from the period between the commencements of the poll until half an hour after the closing of the final phase of the poll.
Suggestion to strengthen ECI
- The budget of the Commission should be treated as “Charged” on the Consolidated Fund of India.
- Law Commission:- A new sub-clause (2A) should be added to Article 324 of the Constitution to provide for a separate independent and permanent Secretariat for the ECI along the lines of the Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha Secretariats under Article 98 of the Constitution. This will further improve the independence of the ECI.
- Article 324(5) of the Constitution should be amended to equate the removal procedures of the two Election Commissioners with that of the Chief Election Commissioner. Thus, equal constitutional protection should be given to all members of the ECI in matters of removability from office.