Election Commission: Parties ask EC not to make poll bribery a visible offence

The Election Commission’s (EC) long-pending proposal to make voter bribery by political parties and their candidates a cognizable offence and to disqualify MPs chargesheeted for the offence, has found very little favour with political parties.

NEW DELHI All major parties have conveyed to EC that they feel that such provisions would make the opposition parties highly ‘vulnerable’ to a possible witch hunt or harassment by the ruling regime.

This development means that with most political parties opposed to the proposal it is unlikely to go through. EC sources said the all party responses to the proposal will soon be forwarded to the Law Ministry but also conceded that it would be difficult to move these proposals due to such opposition from political fraternity.

The two major issues which have failed to find political support pertain to making electoral bribery a cognisable offence and disqualification of sitting MPs on framing of Charges for the Offence of Bribery in Elections.

ECI sources confirmed to ET that during the course of the all-party meeting held on May 12 and in their written submissions, all major parties have opposed the EC proposals on the issue.

The political parties have argued that such a proposal and its implementation is unlikely to be free from the influence of the government of the day and could be used to harass political opponents. Some parties have expressed faith in EC but they have pointed out that the law and order machinery being under the state government, the scope for misuse of power by the ruling regime cannot be ruled out.

Most parties have also objected to the disqualification of candidates on grounds of bribery arguing that false allegations could then mean that a candidate may be barred from contesting for years together, pending trial.

In 2012, the Election Commission recommended to the Home Ministry to amend the existing law to make bribery during elections (both cash and kind) a cognisable offence, enabling police to arrest the violators without a warrant and to enhance the punishment up to two years.

In order to address the issue of criminalisation of politics, the Commission has been recommending for disqualification even prior to conviction by court in case of serious offences. The Commission has been arguing that such a restriction on individual rights would be in larger public interest and will add to the sanctity of the august Houses of Parliament and State Legislature.

Both proposals by the EC are being made in the light of increased instances of voter bribery across the country. In unprecedented moves, the EC has had to cancel polls in two assembly seats in Tamil Nadu in 2016 and again this year in a by-election in the same state on grounds of rampant bribery.

The EC has accordingly sought powers backed by law to countermand polls in case large scale bribery is suspected. The Centre has initiated the process of taking this proposal through.