EC to go by law on poll notifications, rules out return of ballot papers

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Kolkata, June 3: Amid reports of possibility of early Lok Sabha elections, Chief Election Commissioner of India (CEC) Om Prakash Rawat on Saturday said the Commission will abide by the law and can issue a notification for election to any House “not before six months” of the expiry of that House.

“Law says the Election Commission can issue notification for election to any House not before six months before the expiry of that House. That is the legal binding on the Election Commission,” he said at an interactive session organised by the Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).

Rawat also said the Commission is the authority to decide the schedule for elections.

When asked whether the Commission has received any suggestion regarding preponing of the 2019 general elections, he said: “Absolutely not! The Election Commission will go by the law. I have explained the law… If the law requires that within six months you have to hold elections, you have to hold.”

Ruling out any possibility of bringing back ballot papers for elections, he said the electronic voting machines (EVMs) were being made a “scapegoat” as the machines cannot speak and political parties needed to blame someone or something for their defeat.

He said the panel had last July announced at an all-party meeting that all elections henceforth would be conducted using EVMs coupled with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines.

VVPAT is also being used along with EVMs for enhanced transparency and credibility in the voting process, he said, adding that sometimes machines may malfunction due to mistakes of operators.

“Political parties add fuel to this fire because they do not want to accept this. They do not want to introspect and this (EVM) is the easiest scapegoat. It cannot speak,” he said and claimed that India’s conduct of free and fair elections is admired all across the world.

“There is absolutely nothing about the integrity of the system… However, time and again there are eruptions on this, and we clarify the issue,” he said.

Responding to a query on the idea of simultaneous elections, Rawat said: “The Election Commission was asked about this idea in 2015. The Commission gave all the suggestions to the government. It requires changes in the Constitution and also in law. Logistic support will also be required. We gave suggestion to the government. After that, we are not aware (of it). Recently, the Law Commission met the Election Commission.”

Speaking on electoral bonds, he said the Commission is gathering facts and information to crystallise its view on this.

“As soon as we complete this, we will be communicating to government and will put its views in public domain,” Rawat added.

He also said the Commission has delisted more than 1,000 political parties in the last two years for being inactive for a long period and not taking part in the election process.

“The Supreme Court held that the Election Commission cannot de-register political parties. However, the EC has started a process of delisting those political parties which are totally inactive or not taking part in election process,” he said.

“In the last two years, more than 1,000 political parties have been delisted. The process is going on,” Rawat added.

Referring to the incident of data harvesting by Cambridge Analytica from various social media platforms for profiling the behaviour of the voters, formulating targeted communications so as to make voters vote in a manner which is desirable for their clients, he said the Commission is “working on this issue”.

“The Commission has set up a social media hub… We are working on the issue. The Commission is also working for a code of conduct for all social media platforms so that we can prevent data harvesting,” he said, adding that the threat is “huge”.

After the success of a mobile application that enabled people to share complaints with evidence during the Karnataka elections, the Commission will use the app in the upcoming polls.

“The application will help people to share complaints with evidence. We have used the application during Karnataka elections. Over 780 videos were received by the Commission. We are giving power to common people to check wrongdoing… People will become policemen in the election process,” the Chief Election Commissioner said.

“It is a success. It will be used everywhere,” he added.

According to Rawat, the application has a feature to identify latitude, longitude of the area and concerned constituency. It can also identify election officials concerned, so that the complaints are addressed.

The Commission would ensure that the identity of the complainant is not disclosed, he said.