After conducting elections in UP and in Gujarat amid allegations of EVM tampering and violations of the code of conduct, the Election Commission may have to brace up for new challenges as the poll juggernaut hurtles through eight states in 2018. ET takes a look at what lies ahead for the poll panel:
MONITORING USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
The social media monitoring mechanism of the EC relies mainly on complaints made by voters and representatives of political parties.
Although EC’s media certification and monitoring committee, which keeps tabs on print and electronic media for advertisements of political nature, also looks out for violations, the fragility of the mechanism came into question during the Gujarat elections. This led to the EC directing the formation of a committee to review the law around the violation of the model code of conduct and study the use of social media and advances in ‘other means of communication’.
In August, Election Commissioner OP Rawat conceded that it was important to monitor the influence of social media on elections. “It has come to the EC’s notice that some public relations firms are actively being deployed to shape public opinion online. With increasing use of mobile-internet technology, the influence of social media has also risen and it is high time that social media’s content is monitored,” Rawat had said.
VVPAT & EVM
Even as the EC has decided to use VVPATs in all future elections, it is yet to take a decision on tallying all votes cast through EVMs. So far, it has only ordered recounting of VVPAT slips in one polling booth of each Assembly constituency on a pilot basis in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Although the EC claims that there were no instances of mismatch between the votes cast and the paper trail tallied, the EVM tampering controversy is still alive and proving the credibility of EVMs will continue to be a challenge for the poll watchdog.
Opposition parties such as the Congress, the AAP and the Samajwadi Party have not ceased alleging that EVMs were hacked to favour the BJP in past elections, and the chorus for use of ballot papers has only grown louder. The EC, however, maintains that its EVMs are reliable and the third-generation machines, which will be used in the 2019 general elections, will be technologically advanced and completely secure.
Paid news continues to be a menace for the EC. While Punjab and Uttar Pradesh reported 80 and 56 complaints of paid news, respectively, earlier this year, Gujarat reported 121 confirmed cases. While the EC has already taken up the issue with the law ministry, seeking that paid news be treated as a cognisable offence, nothing has been done so far.
The most challenging part for the EC, officials say, is to establish that the news has been paid for. Even though there is circumstantial evidence, there isn’t much to prove it on record.
With eight states (Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) going to polls and the political stakes high before the general elections, one of the biggest tasks before the EC will be to keep a tab on election expenditure by political parties and check bribery for votes.
The RK Nagar bypoll in Tamil Nadu was initially cancelled this year after unaccounted money to the tune of Rs 90 crore was discovered at a politician’s house. Despite heavy deployment of forces and expenditure later this year, the EC struggled to check illegal cash inflows, as nearly Rs 30 lakh was confiscated in the run-up to the elections in December.
Similarly, Gujarat saw alcohol seizure worth Rs 2.2 crore — the highest ever in the dry state. As per the EC’s records, its surveillance and expenditure monitoring teams had recovered over Rs 64 crore in cash, including Rs 56.04 crore from Uttar Pradesh, and liquor and drugs worth over Rs 8 crore during the first leg of elections in 2017 in Punjab, Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand and UP.