India is a constitutional democracy with a parliamentary system of government, and at the heart of the system is a commitment to hold regular, free and fair elections. These elections determine the composition of the government, the membership of the two houses of parliament, the state and union territory legislative assemblies, and the Presidency and vice-presidencyIndia is a constitutional democracy with a parliamentary system of government, and at the heart of the system is a commitment to hold regular, free and fair elections.
These elections determine the composition of the government, the membership of the two houses of parliament, the state and union territory legislative assemblies, and the Presidency and vice-presidencyThe country has been divided into 543 Parliamentary Constituencies, each of which returns one MP to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament. The size and shape of the parliamentary constituencies are determined by an independent Delimitation Commission, which aims to create constituencies which have roughly the same population, subject to geographical considerations and the boundaries of the states and administrative areas.
(Back) 4. How Constituency Boundaries are drawn up? Delimitation is the redrawing of the boundaries of parliamentary or assembly constituencies to make sure that there are, as near as practicable, the same number of people in each constituency. In India boundaries are meant to be examined after the ten-yearly census to reflect changes in population, for which Parliament by law establishes an independent Delimitation Commission, made up of the Chief Election Commissioner and two judges or ex-judges from the Supreme Court or High Court.
However, under a constitutional amendment of 1976, delimitation was suspended until after the census of 2001, ostensibly so that states’ family-planning programmes would not affect their political representation in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas. This has led to wide discrepancies in the size of constituencies, with the largest having over 25,00,000 electors, and the smallest less than 50,000. (Back) 5. Reservation of Seats. The Constitution puts a limit on the size of the Lok Sabha of 550 elected members, apart from two members who can be nominated by the President to represent the Anglo-Indian community.
There are also provisions to ensure the representation of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, with reserved constituencies where only candidates from these communities can stand for election. There was an attempt to pass legislation to introduce reserved one third of the seats for female candidates but the dissolution of Lok Sabha for the 1998 election occurred before the bill had completed its passage through parliament. (Back) 6. Parliament. The Parliament of the Union consists of the President, the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States).
The President is the head of state, and he appoints the Prime Minister, who runs the government, according to the political composition of the Lok Sabha. Although the government is headed by a Prime Minister, the Cabinet is the central decision making body of the government. Members of more than one party can make up a government, and although the governing parties may be a minority in the Lok Sabha, they can only govern as long as they have the confidence of a majority of MPs, the members of the Lok Sabha.
As well as being the body, which determines whom, makes up the government, the Lok Sabha is the main legislative body, along with the Rajya Sabha. (Back) 7. Rajya Sabha – The Council of States. The members of the Rajya Sabha are elected indirectly, rather than by the citizens at large. Rajya Sabha members are elected by each state Vidhan Sabha using the single transferable vote system. Unlike most federal systems, the number of members returned by each state is roughly in proportion to their population.
At present there are 233 members of the Rajya Sabha elected by the Vidhan Sabhas, and there are also twelve members nominated by the President as representatives of literature, science, art and social services. Rajya Sabha members can serve for six years, and elections are staggered, with one third of the assembly being elected every 2 years. Nominated members The president can nominate 2 members of the Lok Sabha if it is felt that the representation of the Anglo-Indian community is inadequate, and 12 members of the Rajya Sabha, to represent literature, science, art and the social services.
(Back) 8. State Assemblies. India is a federal country, and the Constitution gives the states and union territories significant control over their own government. The Vidhan Sabhas (legislative assemblies) is directly elected bodies set up to carrying out the administration of the government in the 25 States of India. In some states there is a bicameral organisation of legislatures, with both an upper and Lower House. Two of the seven Union Territories viz. , the National Capital Territory of Delhi and Pondicherry, have also legislative assemblies.
Elections to the Vidhan Sabhas are carried out in the same manner as for the Lok Sabha election, with the states and union territories divided into single-member constituencies, and the first-past-the-post electoral system used. The assemblies range in size, according to population. The largest Vidhan Sabha is for Uttar Pradesh, with 425 members; the smallest Pondicherry, with 30 members. (Back) 9. President and Vice-President. The President is elected by the elected members of the Vidhan Sabhas, Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha, and serves for a period of 5 years (although they can stand for re-election).
A formula is used to allocate votes so there is a balance between the population of each state and the number of votes assembly members from a state can cast, and to give an equal balance between state and national assembly Parliament members. If no candidate receives a majority of votes there is a system by which losing candidates are eliminated from the contest and votes for them transferred to other candidates, until one gain a majority. The Vice President is elected by a direct vote of all members elected and nominated, of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
The single transferable vote system. Election for the members of the Rajya Sabha and the President are carried out using the single transferable vote system. The single transferable vote system is designed to ensure more diverse representation, by reducing the opportunity for blocks of voters to dominate minorities. The ballot paper lists all candidates standing for election and the voters’ list them in order of preference. A threshold number of votes, known as the ‘quota’ is set, which candidates have to achieve to be elected.
For presidential elections the quota is set at one more than half the number of votes, ensuring that the winner is the candidate who gets a clear majority. For the Rajya Sabha the quota is set at the number of votes that can be attained by just enough MPs to fill all the seats but no more. Votes that are deemed surplus, those given to candidates who have already got a full quota of votes, or votes given to candidates who are deemed to be losing candidates, are transferred according to the voter’s listed preferences, until the right number of candidates have been elected. (Back) 10.
Independent Election Commission. An independent Election Commission has been established under the Constitution in order to carry out and regulate the holding of elections in India. The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950. Originally a Chief Election Commissioner ran the commission, but first in 1989 and later again in 1993 two additional Election Commissioners were appointed. The Election Commission is responsible for the conduct of elections to parliament and state legislatures and to the offices of the President and Vice-President.
The Election Commission prepares, maintains and periodically updates the Electoral Roll, which shows who is entitled to vote, supervises the nomination of candidates, registers political parties, monitors the election campaign, including candidates’ funding. It also facilitates the coverage of the election process by the media, organises the polling booths where voting takes place, and looks after the counting of votes and the declaration of results. All this is done to ensure that elections can take place in an orderly and fair manner.
At present, there are two Election Commissioners appointed by the President. Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only by parliamentary impeachment. The Commission decides most matters by consensus but in case of any dissension, the majority view prevails. 11. Who can vote? The democratic system in India is based on the principle of universal adult suffrage; that any citizen over the age of 18 can vote in an election (before 1989 the age limit was 21). The right to vote is irrespective of caste, creed, religion or gender.
Those who are deemed unsound of mind, and people convicted of certain criminal offences are not allowed to vote. There has been a general increase in the number of people voting in Indian elections. In 1952 61. 16 per cent of the electorate voted. By 1996 the turnout for the general election was 57. 94 per cent. There have been even more rapid increases in the turnout of women and members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, who had tended to be far less likely to participate in elections, and voting for these groups has moved closer to the national average. (Back) 12. The Electoral Roll.
The electoral roll is a list of all people in the constituency who are registered to vote in Indian Elections. Only those people with their names on the electoral roll are allowed to vote. The electoral roll is normally revised every year to add the names of those who are to turn 18 on the 1st January of that year or have moved into a constituency and to remove the names of those who have died or moved out of a constituency. If you are eligible to vote and are not on the electoral roll, you can apply to the Electoral Registration Officer of the constituency, who will update the register.
The updating of the Electoral Roll only stops during an election campaign, after the nominations for candidates have closed. (Back) 13. Computerisation of Rolls. The Election Commission is currently undertaking the computerisation of the electoral rolls throughout India, which should lead to improvements in the accuracy and speed with which the electoral roll can be updated. This has already been completed in the northern states of Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and the Eastern state of Tripura and Rolls in the new computerised format put to use for the general Election in 1998.
(Back) 14. Electors’ Photo Identity Cards. In an attempt to improve the accuracy of the electoral roll and prevent electoral fraud, the Election Commission has pressed for the introduction of photo identity cards for voters. This is a massive task, and at present over 338 million have been provided. The Commission is providing ways and methods to deal with the problems with the issue of cards, and difficulties in keeping track of voters, especially the mobile urban electorate. (Back) 15. When do elections take place?