Last year when electoral reforms were suggested by the then Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi did not revoke any sort of reaction and there has been a luke warm response from the political parties. The reasons are very simple the demonetisation has kept the nation occupied, the opposition and the Modi government have set their political agenda and are unlikely to act on the CEC’s otherwise important suggestions. Parliament’s session was about to end and the time left was too little for the legislative changes the CEC pleads, not that the government and opposition parties are terribly interested in the issues raised. The baneful influence of money and muscle power on a poll outcome has long been questioned but remains unsettled. Zaidi’s poll clean-up agenda was simple and uncomplicated. He had emphasized the income tax exemption, currently available to each of the 1,900 registered political parties, should be restricted to those contesting elections. The Election Commission has confirmed an open secret that political outfits are often floated to peddle black money and seeks power to de-register such non-parties. That is fair enough. Also known is the Election Commission’s helplessness when candidates under-report poll expenses even as the Rs 28 lakh ceiling for an assembly seat and Rs 70 lakh for a Lok Sabha election may be unrealistic. The CEC has also suggested making paid news and bribing voters’ cognizable offences so that offenders could be arrested without bail. The Representation of the People’s Act will have to be amended to empower the Election Commission to countermand an election on the ground of distribution of money. The hard fact is despite all their talk of curbing black money and political fight over demonetisation’s side-effects, political parties unitedly resist change, particularly, about making political funding transparent and bringing parties under the RTI Act. The status quo suits them. At that time Chief Election Commissioner had issued a timely caution that if laws are not changed to regulate political funds, a “fearful” situation could arise where holding of fair polls would become difficult because of the money influence. Has the ground realities have changed seeing the large quantity of money and liquor seized in election-bound Gujarat?
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