New Delhi: Days before the first phase of Bihar polls, the Election Commission has reminded political parties of the guidelines to be followed while drafting election manifestos and have also asked them to provide it with a copy of the document soon after it has been released.
“The political party or candidate shall submit a copy of election manifesto to the Election Commission of India/Office of the Chief Electoral Officer after the date of issue of election manifesto,” the Commission said.
The ‘supplementary press note' of the EC issued on Friday ahead of Bihar elections is a reminder of a similar letter issued to all recognised national and state political parties by it in April.
The letter had said the “Commission has desired that, whenever a political party releases its manifesto for whichever election conducted by the Commission, a hard copy of the same along with a soft copy may be sent to the Commission for its record.”
The Commission, however, gave no reasons as to why it requires a copy of the manifesto. But some EC officials said as allegations that manifesto is aimed at influencing voters often fly thick during elections, it is better to have a copy for quick reference.
The EC statement reminded political parties that it had issued guidelines for election manifestos following a July, 2013 Supreme Court order on the issue.
The apex court (in the S Subramaniam Balaji Vs Govt of Tamil Nadu and Others) has directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines with regard to the contents of election manifestos in consultation with all recognised political parties.
During consultations, while some political parties had supported the issuance of such guidelines, others were of the view that it is their right and duty towards voters to make such offers and promises in manifestos in a healthy democratic polity.
“While the Commission agrees in principle with the point of view that framing of manifestos is the right of the political parties, it cannot overlook the undesirable impact of some of the promises and offers on the conduct of free and fair elections and maintaining level playing field for all political parties and candidates,” the statement said referring to its April letter.
The guidelines on manifestos said the document “shall not” contain anything repugnant to the ideals and principles enshrined in the Constitution and that it shall be consistent with the letter and spirit of other provisions of Model Code of Conduct.
It also said the political parties should “avoid” making promises which are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert “undue influence” on the voters in exercising their franchise.
“In the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises, it is expected that manifestos also reflect the rationale for the promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it. Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled,” another guideline said.
The SC had said that “although, the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as corrupt practice under Section 123 of Representation of People Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people. It shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.”
In June, the EC had said that it has no power to take action against political parties if they fail to deliver on their election promises.
“On the issues of parties failing to fulfil their manifesto pledges, the EC has no constitution power. But on the Supreme Court's order it has, after consultation with all recognised political parties, framed guidelines to be followed for election manifesto,” the poll panel had said in an RTI reply.
Bihar Assembly polls will be held in five phases on October 12, 16, 28, November 1 and 5. Counting of votes will take place on November 8.