Election changes need stakeholder consultations, according to Law Minister Kiren Rijiju

Election changes need stakeholder consultations, according to Law Minister Kiren Rijiju

Election changes must be put into place, according to Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who said on Wednesday that extensive conversations with all parties involved, including political parties, are necessary.

His comments were made in response to the survey panel's renewed call for electoral changes, which includes the deployment of remote voting technology to let migrant voters exercise their right to vote without traveling to their home states.

The Election Commission conducted discussions on this topic earlier this month with recognized political parties.

He referred to the different electoral reform suggestions put up by the EC when he remarked that consultations and debates are "symbols" of a healthy democracy.

According to Rijiju, nearly 1.5 crore new voters have been added to the electoral list as a consequence of revisions made to the election legislation a year ago.

He said that having four deadlines rather than just one earlier has made it easier for young people to register to vote when they are 18 years old.

The minister also praised the decision to let anyone older than 17 to register with the EC in advance. Their names are added to the voter registry after they are 18 years old.

Rijiju spoke at the 13th National Voters' Day event in front of President Droupadi Murmu, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, companion election commissioners, and representatives of different political parties. He recalled the contributions made by a number of unsung heroes who have not received recognition but have made sacrifices to ensure free and fair elections.

The minister said that he holds meetings with representatives of the poll panel and is in frequent contact with the Election Commission over the matter of electoral reforms.

The nodal agency for everything relating to the poll panel, including election laws and associated regulations, is the Legislative Department of the Union law ministry.

The government has received many EC changes to voting suggestions. Before going forward with such reform suggestions, it is customary to contact political parties and sometimes solicit the opinions of regular individuals, he added.

Moving ahead only after talks and debates is a sign of a healthy democracy, he said.

To rid election finance of black money, the poll panel has advised lowering anonymous political contributions from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000 and restricting cash donations at 20% of the total contribution, or at a maximum of Rs 20 crore.

In a letter to Rijiju, CEC Kumar proposed many changes to the Representation of the People Act. The suggestions seek to bring about improvements and transparency in both the expenses expended by candidates at the hustings and the funds collected by political parties.

The Election Commission has also renewed a nearly two-decade-old recommendation to modify the legislation to prevent anyone from running for more than one seat, and has said that if it cannot be done, then a large fee should be levied on those who vacate one of the seats and force a bypoll.

In accordance with current electoral rules, a candidate may run in a general election, a series of by-elections, or a biennial election from two separate seats. A person who is elected from more than one seat is only permitted to keep the seat from which they were elected.

The polling panel has argued in favor of reducing the barrier for monetary contributions to political parties from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000.

Political parties are required by the present regulations to inform the EC of any contributions above Rs 20,000 in their contribution report.

All contributions above Rs 2,000 must be declared via the contribution report, increasing financing transparency, if the Law Ministry approves the EC's request.

The EC has also sought to cap cash contributions at 20% of the total money collected by a party, or at a limit of Rs 20 crore, whichever is less.

The poll panel has requested that digital transactions or account payee cheque transfers be made mandatory for all expenses above Rs 2,000 to a single entity or person in an effort to increase transparency in the expenditures made by individual candidates running in elections and to eliminate "fungibility" in this expenditure.

A candidate would be required to keep a separate account for receipts and payments related to elections after this amendment to Rule 89 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 is implemented, according to government sources. This account would need to be transparently disclosed to authorities as an account of election expenditure.

Currently, guidelines include keeping a separate bank account for election-related expenses, but the EC wants it included in the Conduct of Election Rules.

In the meanwhile, the Law Commission has requested updated opinions on simultaneous elections from different stakeholders, including political parties and the EC, based on six issues raised by the last panel in its draft report on the politically contentious topic.

Last month, the 22nd law panel published a public notice asking for opinions from interested parties.