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  • Context (IE): With the announcement of dates for lok sabha general elections the MCC has come into effect.
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) announced that the country would vote in seven phases in the 2024 elections.
  • The MCC of ECI is a set of guidelines issued to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections.
  • The rules range from issues related to speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, the content of election manifestos, processions, & general conduct, so that free and fair elections are conducted.
  • It helps EC in keeping with the mandate it has been given under Article 324 of the IC.
    • Art 324 of the IC gives ECI the power to supervise and conduct free and fair elections.

Evolution of MCC

  • The origin of the MCC lies in the Assembly elections of Kerala in 1960, when the State administration prepared a ‘Code of Conduct’ for political actors.
  • Subsequently, in the Lok Sabha elections in 1962, the ECI circulated the code to all recognized political parties and State governments.
  • It was in 1991 after repeated flouting of the election norms and continued corruption, the EC decided to enforce the MCC more strictly.
  • After 1991, the ECI enforced the MCC using new means, and in cases of violation, the Chief Election Commissioner exercised constitutional power under Art 324 of the IC to postpone elections.
  • In 2013, the SC directed the ECI to include guidelines on election manifestos in the MCC.

Enforcement/Implementation of MCC

  • The MCC is operational from the date on which the election schedule is announced until the date of the result announcement.
  • Listed Political Parties and Candidates: Listed political parties and candidates are bound to follow the MCC
  • Non-Political Organizations: Non-political organizations which hold campaigns favouring a political party or candidate are bound to follow specific guidelines.
  • Government-Funded Entities: All organizations, committees, corporations, commissions funded wholly or partially by the Centre or State are bound by the MCC.
  • During general elections to the Lok Sabha, the code is applicable throughout the country.
  • During general elections to the Legislative Assembly of the state, the code is applicable in the entire State.
  • During by-elections, the MCC would be applicable in the area of the concerned Constituency only.
  • It is also applicable for State Legislative Council elections from Local Bodies, and Graduates’ and Teachers’ Constituencies.

Guidelines Issued during MCC

Prohibitions

  • Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record, and work.
  • Activities such as using caste and communal feelings to secure votes, criticizing candidates on the basis of unverified reports, bribing or intimidation of voters, etc. are prohibited.

Meetings

  • Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.

Processions

  • If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, the political parties must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash.
  • Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.

Polling Day

  • Only voters and those with a valid pass from the EC are allowed to enter polling booths.
  • All authorized party workers at polling booths should be given suitable badges or identity cards.
  • Identity slips supplied by them to voters shall be on plain (white) paper and shall not contain any symbol, name of the candidate or the name of the party.

Observers

  • The EC will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
    • Any complaint regarding elections should be brought to EC observers, Returning Officer, local magistrate, Chief Electoral Officer or the Election Commission itself.
    • In response, any directions issued by the EC, Returning officer, District Election Officer shall be strictly complied with.

Party in Power

  • The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power.
  • Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.
  • The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.
  • The ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc.
  • Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses, and these must not be monopolized by the party in power.

Election Manifestos

  • The election manifesto shall not contain anything against the ideals & principles enshrined in IC.
  • Political parties should avoid making promises that are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on voters.
  • Manifestos should reflect the rationale for promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it.
  • Manifestos shall not be released during the prohibitory period, as prescribed under Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act 1951, for single or multi-phase elections.

Some Recent Additions to the MCC

  • The regulation of opinion polls and exit polls during the period notified by the ECI.
  • The prohibition of advertisements in print media on polling day and one day prior to it unless the contents are pre-certified by screening committees.
  • The restriction on government advertisements featuring political functionaries during the election period.

Is the MCC Legally Enforceable?

  • Though the MCC does not have any statutory backing, it has come to acquire strength in the past decade because of its strict enforcement by the EC.
  • However, the ECI argues against making it legally binding.
    • Elections must be completed within a relatively short time or close to 45 days and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law.

Criticisms of the MCC

Ineffectiveness in Curbing Malpractices

  • The MCC has failed to prevent electoral malpractices such as hate speech, fake news, money power, booth capturing, voter intimidation, and violence.
  • ECI is also challenged by new technologies and social media platforms that enable faster and wider dissemination of misinformation and propaganda.

Lack of Legal Enforceability

  • MCC is not a legally binding document and relies merely on moral persuasion and public opinion for compliance.

Interference with Governance

  • MCC imposes limitations on policy decisions, public spending, welfare schemes, transfers, and appointments.
  • ECI is often criticized for applying the MCC too early or too late, affecting development activities and public interest.

Lack of Awareness and Compliance

  • It is not widely known or understood by voters, candidates, parties, and government officials.

Weak response and delayed action

  • ECI’s capacity for response to inappropriate statements by powerful political actors has been weak or delayed.
  • Hence, political actors are regaining the confidence to flout the MCC without facing the consequences.

Lack of power to disqualify candidates

  • The ECI does not have the power to disqualify candidates who commit electoral malpractices.
  • At best, it may direct the registration of a case.

Inability to de-register political parties:

  • The ECI does not have the power to deregister any political party for electoral violations.
  • This raises concerns about the accountability of political parties and the lack of consequences for their actions.

Reforms suggested for the effective functioning of the MCC

  • Legal enforcement: The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2013) that the MCC be made legally binding by including it as a component of the RPA, 1951.
  • Enforcement through other measures: Certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the IPC 1860, CrPC 1973, and RPA 1951.
  • Law Commission recommendation (2015): The ruling party generally releases GOI-sponsored advertisements highlighting its achievements before the announcement of MCC, which gives it an unfair advantage over other parties and candidates.
    • It suggested imposing a ban on such advertisements for up to six months before the expiry of the House/Assembly to ensure a level playing field for all.
  • Use of technology: Technology-based resources, such as AI-based systems, can be utilized to prevent violations of MCC through social media platforms.
  • Independence of ECI: The ECI should be granted greater independence similar to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to enable it to take more stringent actions for the implementation of MCC.
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