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  • Context (IE): The Bombay HC directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to immediately conduct a by-poll for the Pune Lok Sabha constituency.
  • A plea was filed against a certificate issued by the ECI to not hold a by-poll to the constituency.
  • ECI argued that the complainant had no locus standi (legal standing) to file a writ petition and instead should have filed a PIL.

ECI’s Response

  • In case by-polls are held, the returned candidate would hardly have three months to work as an MP.
  • It had a “genuine difficulty” in conducting the by-poll as its whole machinery was far too busy with preparations for Lok Sabha elections 2024.

HC’s Observation

  • Petitioner had a locus to file a writ petition being a voter of the said constituency.
  • ECI’s powers were never ‘unbridled or exempted’ from judicial review.
  • Constituencies cannot remain unrepresented beyond a defined period and the same is “wholly unconstitutional”.
  • ECI should only function within a principle of “right to representation”.

About By-Elections/Bypolls

  • Bypolls, or special elections, refer to elections held to fill vacant seats in the legislative bodies of India.
  • The primary objective of by-polls is to ensure the timely filing of vacant seats, enabling the representation of the affected constituency or district in the legislative body.
  • Bypolls are conducted when a seat in the legislature becomes vacant due to reasons such as the
    1. Death,
    2. Resignation,
    3. Disqualification, or
    4. Expulsion of a sitting member.

RPA, 1951 on By-Elections

  • Section 151A of RPA prescribes that the by-elections shall be held within six months from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy.
  • Exceptions:
    • Section 151A (a): Six-month rule will not apply when the remainder of the Parliament term is less than one year.
    • Section 151A (b): To not hold by-polls is a consultation between EC and the Central government, certifying ‘difficulty’ to hold the same within six months.
  • Term of the incumbent Lok Sabha would end on June 16, 2024, and the Pune LS seat had been vacant since March 29, 2023, therefore the first exception under section 151A would not apply in the given case.

Impact of By-Polls

  • Bypolls serve as a significant indicator of the popularity and strength of political parties.
  • Political parties can use bypolls to measure public sentiment and assess their support base.
  • The outcomes of by-elections can have an impact on the ruling government’s majority.
  • If the ruling party loses a substantial number of bypoll seats, it may lead to a loss of the government’s stability and decision-making.
  • Bypolls offer a platform for political parties to experiment with their electoral strategies and refine their campaign approaches.
  • Parties can test various aspects such as candidate selection, campaign themes, and messaging during by-polls that can influence their strategies in subsequent elections.
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