Model Code of Conduct
Effectiveness of Model Code of Conduct
Recently, the Election Commission (EC) has found former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister’s remark on a woman politician violative of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).
Model Code of conduct has been a remarkable step in ensuring free and fair elections in India. Critically Examine. And discuss the challenges to implement it.
About Model code of conduct
● It refers to a set of norms laid down by the Election Commission of India, with the consensus of political parties.
● MCC bears no statutory backing and remains unenforceable.
● It spells out the dos and don’ts for elections. Political parties, candidates and polling agents are expected to observe the norms, on matters ranging from the content of election manifestos, speeches and processions, to general conduct, so that free and fair elections take place.
● The MCC is operational from the date that the election schedule is announced till the date that results are announced.
Need of model code of conduct
● Ensures a level playing field for all political party and contestants
● Ensures that party in power cannot take any undue advantages or benefits during election
Issues with Model Code of Conduct
● Not legally enforceable: The commission usually uses moral sanction to get political parties and candidates to fall in line. But due to lack of legal backing Political parties often flout the norms
● Views on legal binding
o View of Election Commission: The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding. EC observe that elections must be completed within a relatively short time, and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law.
o View of standing committee on electoral reform: It recommended making the MCC legally binding. It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
● Government-sponsored advertisements: MCC prohibits the issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer but the government can release advertisements prior to the announcement of elections giving an advantage to the ruling party.
Law Commission recommended that a restriction should be imposed on government-sponsored advertisements for up to six months prior to the date of expiry of the House/Assembly.
● Hindered development activities: MCC prohibit announcement of new projects which hamper the development activities. However, The EC was of the view that the code does not bring governance to a halt. It said the code only bars announcement and launch of new schemes and projects so that voters are not influenced by the party in power.
● Enforcement capacity of Election commission: EC often runs with short of enforcement agencies and personnel who take vigil on impermissible content.
● Enforce Model Code of Conduct on social media: The model code applies to all social media content, but closed systems such as WhatsApp, where users connect individually, are not covered by the election commission’s guidelines.
Limitations faced by model code of conduct in the digital age:
● Blurring distinction of Private and Public: Social media has blurred distinction between private and public. New age tools like live webcasting, making election campaign related stuff go ‘Viral’, bringing in celebrities ‘influencers’ etc. have made implementation of MCC a complex task.
● Accessibility: Exponential growth of digital communication in India and being non-regulated social media due to concerns over freedom of speech, free internet, the challenge posed by social media for EC is significant. EC lacks resources as well as surveillance capacity to implement and punish the violation of MCC.
● Jurisdiction issues: Digital companies like Facebook are run by companies located overseas. Holding them accountable has been difficult for Indian agencies. EC will face similar challenge in preventing MCC violations.
● Election expenditure: Tracing money trails and poll expenditures is difficult in digital age.
● Political advertisement on social media and lack of transparency: In March 2019 Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google, ShareChat and TikTok presented a ‘voluntary code of ethics’. Among other things, that involves insisting on transparency in political ads. Even though a small beginning has been made, full transparency will remain a challenge for election commission.
● Fake News: Digital media is potent source of unverified and deliberate fake news .The way to solve the problem is for the EC to impose a hefty fine per view of an ad that breaks the rules. EC needs to create a clear set of rules and stipulate fines.
● Closed system like Whatsapp: There are many gaps like closed systems such as WhatsApp, where users connect individually, are not covered by the election commission’s guidelines. This despite WhatsApp being one of the country’s largest social media platforms, bigger than even Facebook.
The Model code of conduct has evolved over time and is a strong tool used by the ECI to keep the process of conducting elections fair. In the digital era enforcement of Model code of conduct remains a major challenge for election commission. It should be provided with statutory backing. The legal provisions will make it more powerful. There should be establishment of special fast track courts to solve the election violation cases at a faster rate.