With the announcement of the dates of Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission of India’s Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is now in effect till the commencement of elections. The code of conduct is a set of guidelines for political parties and candidates during elections with respect to eight aspects: general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booth, observers, party in power, election manifestos. In other words, it is a big set of dos and don’ts for political parties during election time.
Intending to provide a level playing field for all political parties, the MCC aims to keep the campaign fair and avoid clashes between the parties in addition to ensuring peace and order. It also ensures that the ruling party, does not misuse its official powers to gain an unfair advantage during an election.
When did it first come into play?
It first started as a small set of Dos and Don’ts in 1960 during elections in Kerala. Later, in the 1962 Lok Sabha General Elections, the Election Commission circulated this code to all the recognized political parties and directed the State Governments to ensure the code was accepted by all the political parties.
How did the MCC evolve through the years?
From 1967 to 1991, the Code was modified and it evolved to its present form in 1991. Some of the key changes that were made include the 1979 modification in which the ‘Party in Power’ section was added to prevent cases of abuse of position of power to get undue advantage over other parties and candidates.
The guidelines regarding election manifestos were included in the code before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, after the Election Commission acted on a directive issued by the Supreme Court.
When does it come into effect?
The Model Code of Conduct immediately comes into effect when the poll schedule is announced by the Election Commission and it remains in effect till the entire process of the elections is completed. This also applies to a ‘caretaker’ government in case of premature dissolution of a state assembly.
How is it enforced?
The Election Commission has several methods of enforcing the MCC, which include joint task forces of enforcement agencies and flying squads. Additionally, any individual can report malpractices/violations of the MCC to the Commission. Recently, Cvigil app was launched by the Election Commission and any individual can report any violation through this app.
- Political parties are allowed to criticise the opponents but the criticism should be restricted to their policies, programs, past record and work.
- Political parties must inform the local police about the time and venue of any meeting, to enable police to take adequate security measures.
- If multiple candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to avoid clashes.
- On the polling day, all the authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges.
- Voters and only those with a valid pass from the Election Commission will be allowed inside polling booths.
- Election manifestos must also indicate the means to achieve the promises made before elections.
- Party candidates can report problems regarding the conduct of the election to the observers appointed by the Election Commission.
- A political party can’t use caste/religious feelings to secure votes
- Opposing candidates/parties can’t be criticised on basis of unverified reports.
- Bribing/intimidation of voters is prohibited.
- Organising demonstrations outside residences of persons to protest against their opinions is prohibited.
- Carrying and burning effigies representing members of the opposing political party is prohibited.
- Party workers at polling booths should not have any party name, symbol and the name of the candidate on their person.
- Ministers must not combine official visits or use official machinery for election work.
- Ministers are not allowed to announce any financial grants, promise construction of roads/projects, announce schemes, etc, which may have an effect of influencing the voter in favour of the political party.
- The ruling party should also avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for advertising.
- Rest houses, public spaces, etc should not be monopolised by the party in power and other parties must be allowed to use these.
- Promises that exert an undue influence on voters should not be made in the election manifesto.