This article has been written by Patil Abhijeet Aneel, pursuing Diploma in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution, and has been edited by Oishika Banerji (Team Lawsikho).
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
Recently, the Indian State Legislative Assembly Election was declared by the Election Commission of India. As expected, almost every political party publishes their election manifesto. In democratic countries like India, USA, Canada, etc., election manifesto plays a vital role in elections to reach voters. This article discusses the legal enforceability of the election manifesto.
An election manifesto is a type of document which is published by a political party or contested candidate during their election campaign to approach voters about when they will be elected and come into power they will fulfil or work on policy/ programme/scheme/plans. An election manifesto contains various sets of promises and commitments towards voters like social welfare, external and internal security of the nation, economy, political and administrative reforms, etc. Some famous election manifestos include Garibi hatao by Mrs Indira Gandhi during the 1972 election campaign, “Manifesto” by Mr. Narendra Modi in 2014, etc. Now, we discuss the legal enforceability of the election manifesto.
Legal enforceability of election manifesto
The legal enforceability of the election manifesto means that commitments and promises made in that manifesto will be legally binding and should be fulfilled after coming into power. If they fail to meet commitment, then they will go through legal proceedings. This election manifesto legally enforced by various tools are as follows.
Election Commission of India (ECI)
This constitutional body frames the Model Code of Conduct in which all political parties have to follow guidelines so no one can try to indulge unfair practice. ECI ensures that these political parties should contest a “free and fair election,” so, these promises in the election manifesto should be fair and practical and uphold constitutional values like the integrity of the country, secularism, and democracy principles. The Supreme Court held “free and fair elections” to be a basic structure of the Constitution in the five-judge bench in Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain (1975).
Election Commission framed the guidelines and made these a part of the Model Code of Conduct some are:
Guideline VIII 3 (ii) “provides that political parties should avoid making those promises which are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters in exercising their franchise.”
Guideline VIII.3 (iii) inter alia states that: “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.”
Legal precedents concerning manifesto
S. Subraminam Balaji v. State of Tamil Nadu & Others (2013)
In this case, the Supreme Court of India acknowledged the helpless voter’s situation following the election and ordered the Election Commission to develop election manifesto guidelines after discussing with all recognised political parties. In light of this, the Election Commission created the rules and included them in the Model Code of Conduct. The court determined that while the promises made in the election manifestos cannot be considered “corrupt practices” under Section 123 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, it is unavoidable that the giving away of freebies of any kind impacts voters.
Ashwini K Upadhyay v. Government of National Territory of Delhi (2021)
In this case, the Apex Court observed that a poll manifesto does not have statutory backing and, hence, its enforceability is not within the purview of the courts and, therefore, rejected the prayer of the petitioner in that case to give a direction to Delhi Government to pass Jan Lokpal Bill and Swaraj Bill, as promised by Aam Aadmi Party in their party manifesto.
Pros and cons of legal enforceability of election manifesto
- Fixing political party integrity and accountability towards their election manifesto.
- Secure voter’s interest and avoid the trap of false promises.
- Upheld democratic values and strengthened the trust of voters.
- Political parties and contested candidates take elections seriously to fulfil political promises made in the election.
- Roadmap to development of the nation in upcoming years. Development is the central theme in elections, so political parties focus on the economic, social, and political upliftment of people.
- Increase chances of freebies scheme to appeasement towards people.
- Political parties will be doing work on the majority of people’s interests so that hampers minorities’ interest
- That can emerge conflict over fundamental rights, i.e. Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.
- The hidden motive of political parties cannot be reflected because of the legal enforceability of the election manifesto.
- Difficult in coalition type governments to implement election manifesto
Election manifestos around the world
United States of America
In the USA, the election manifesto is mandated to be issued two months before election day. As there is no central electoral management body. Thus, electoral authorities do not have any role with respect to election manifestos.
United Kingdom (UK)
In the UK, the election manifesto made vital, more concrete policy choices and their budgetary implications. Parties must add a financial paragraph in the election manifesto and submit it to the Court of Audit (if it exists), which calculates how realistic this manifesto is. The electoral authority issues guidelines for campaign materials, which also apply to manifestos.
In Bhutan, political parties must submit their election manifesto to the Election Commission before the National Assembly Election. The Election Commission can scrutinise and filter out matters in the Election Manifesto. Once the Manifesto is approved it will be issued to the public. The election manifestos in Bhutan can be issued three weeks before the election day.
- Model Code of Conduct strictly followed and monitored by ECI also enforces various Supreme Court judgments and guidelines.
- Take the registered political party’s opinion and make an amendment in the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, that ensures political parties accountability made in the election manifesto.
- Give more power to ECU with regard to the surveillance manifesto and implementing promises made in the manifesto by the party or candidate.
- The sanctity of election manifestos needs to confirm their accountability to parties, and failure of promises must invite legal consequences in the form of restrictions on contesting elections or punitive punishment.
- The most important thing is to create awareness among voters and people through civil society, arrange seminars in various platforms like colleges, schools, public places, etc., and use social media to educate.
As we discussed earlier, the election manifesto plays a vital role in the elected government. For a pragmatic and realistic election manifesto, it should be legally enforceable. This legally enforceable policy would make politics more accountable and transparent. Moreover, it is important for the government to keep the promises made in the manifesto and work towards achieving the goals outlined to maintain the voters’ trust and ensure sustainable economic growth.
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