Model Code of Conduct

Context: The schedule for holding General Election to the State Legislative Assembly of Bihar 2020 has been announced.

Analysis

Model Code of Conduct (MCC) 

  • Of the Constitution mandates the Commission to hold free and fair elections to the Parliament and the State Legislatures.
  • However, the Commission can’t make its announcement more than three weeks ahead of issuing the formal notification of elections.
  • It was also agreed that the inauguration of any completed or new project would be done by civil servants, so that the MCC did not hurt the public interest.
  • First state to adopt a code of conduct for elections.
  • Party in power, and election manifestos.
  •  However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • And the Commission usually uses moral sanction to get political parties and candidates to fall in line.

What is permitted and what is not under the MCC for the party in power?

  • The MCC forbids ministers (of state and central governments) from using official machinery for election work and from combining official visits with electioneering.
  • Advertisements extolling the work of the incumbent government using public money are to be avoided.
  • The government cannot announce any financial grants, promise construction of roads or other facilities, and make any ad hoc appointments in government or public undertaking during the time the Code is in force.
  • Ministers cannot enter any polling station or counting centre except in their capacity as a voter or a candidate.
  • However, the Code does not stand in the way of ongoing schemes of development work or welfare, relief and rehabilitation measures meant for people suffering from drought, floods, and other natural calamities. However, the EC forbids the use of these works for election propaganda.

Is social media covered under the MCC?

  • The Election Commission has taken the view that the MCC will also apply to content posted by political parties and candidates on the Internet, including on social media sites.
  • In 2013, the Commission laid down guidelines to regulate the use of social media by parties and candidates. Candidates have to provide their email address and details of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc., and add the expenditure on advertisements posted on social media to their overall expenditure for the election.

But how does the EC enforce the MCC without statutory backing?

  • The ECI can issue a notice to a politician or a party for alleged breach of the MCC either on its own, or on the basis of a complaint by another party or individual.
  • Once a notice is issued, the person or party must reply in writing — either accepting fault and tendering an unconditional apology, or rebutting the allegation.
  • In the latter case, if the person or party is found guilty subsequently, he/it can attract a written censure from the ECI — something that many see as a mere slap on the wrist.

Section 126/126A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951

  • Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 prohibits displaying any election matter by means, inter alia, of television or similar apparatus, during the period of 48 hours before the hour fixed for conclusion of poll in a constituency. 
  • “Election matter” has been defined as any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election.
  • Violation of the aforesaid provisions of Section 126 is punishable with imprisonment up to a period of two years, or with fine or both.
  • During elections, there are sometimes allegations of violation of the provisions of the above Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 by TV channels in the telecast of their panel discussions/debates and other news and current affairs programmes. 
  • The Commission once again reiterates that the TV/Radio channels and cable networks/internet website/social media platforms should ensure that the contents of the programmes telecast/broadcast/ displayed by them during the period of 48 hours referred to in Section 126 do not contain any material, including views/appeals by panelists/participants that may be construed as promoting/ prejudicing the prospect of any particular party or candidate(s) or influencing/ affecting the result of the election.
  • This shall, among other things include display of any opinion poll and of standard debates, analysis, visuals and sound-bytes.
  • Section 126A of the R.P. Act 1951 prohibits conduct of Exit poll and dissemination of its results during the hour fixed for commencement of poll and half an hour after the time fixed for close of poll in both the States.

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