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Comprehensive consultation with stakeholders is necessary for electoral reform, says Rijiju

Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said on Wednesday that extensive consultations with stakeholders, including political parties, are essential for implementing electoral reforms.

His comments came against a backdrop of new push from the polling panel for electoral reforms, including the use of remote voting technology to allow migrant voters to exercise their right to vote without having to go to their home countries.

Earlier this month, the Elections Commission held consultations with recognized political parties on this matter.

Referring to various proposals on electoral reforms put forward by the EC, he said consultations and discussions are “symbols” of a vibrant democracy.

Rijiju said the amendments made to electoral laws a year ago resulted in the addition of more than 1.5 crore new voters to the electoral roll.

Four cut-off dates instead of the earlier ones have helped young eligible citizens register as voters once they turn 18, he said.

The minister also praised the move to pre-register persons older than 17 with the EC. Once they turn 18, their names are added to the electoral roll.

Speaking at the 13th National Voters Day event here in the presence of President Droupadi Murmu, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, fellow Election Commissioners and representatives of various political parties, Rijiju recalled the role of several unsung heroes who have not been awarded but made sacrifices while helping to keep free and fair polls.

Regarding the electoral reforms, the minister said he is in constant contact with the Election Commission and has held meetings with poll panel officials on the matter.

The Legislative Department of the Union Department of Justice is the focal point for poll panel-related issues, including electoral laws and related rules.

Various EC proposals with regard to water level reforms are pending with the government. The convention is designed to consult political parties and sometimes solicit the views of ordinary citizens before moving forward with such reform proposals, he said.

“It is a symbol of a vibrant democracy to make progress only after consultation and discussion,” he noted.

In the recent past, the poll panel had proposed reducing anonymous political donations from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000 and capping cash donations to 20 per cent of the total contribution or to a maximum of Rs 20 crore to purge election funding from black money.

CEC Kumar had written to Rijiju to recommend a slew of amendments to the Representation of the People Act. The proposals are intended to usher in reform and transparency in donations received by political parties, as well as candidates’ spending in the elections.

Reviving a proposal nearly two decades old, the Election Commission has also made another attempt to amend a law that bans people from running from more than one seat and has said that if it can’t be done, there will be a hefty fine should be levied on those who leave one of the constituencies and force a bypoll.

Under the current state of electoral law, a candidate may contest an election from two different constituencies in a general election or group by-election or biennial polls. If a person is elected from more than one seat, the person can only keep one of the seats he or she won.

The polling panel has called for the threshold for cash donations to political parties to be lowered from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000.

Under current rules, political parties must disclose all donations above Rs 20,000 through their contribution report which is submitted to the EC.

If the EC’s proposal is approved by the Ministry of Justice, all donations above Rs 2,000 will be reported through the contribution report, increasing transparency in funding.

The EC has also sought to limit cash donations to 20 percent or a maximum of Rs 20 crore of the total amount a party receives, whichever is less.

As part of making the spending of individual candidates disputing polls more transparent and to remove the “conduitability” of these spending, the polling panel has sought to make digital transactions or check transfers from account beneficiaries mandatory for all spending above Rs 2,000 to a single entity/person.

Government sources said once this change – which must be made to Rule 89 of the Rules of Conduct for Elections, 1961 – is implemented, a candidate must have a separate account for election-related receipts and payments and be transparently disclosed to authorities , as an account of election expenses.

From now on, keeping a separate bank account for polling expenses is part of the instructions, but the EC wants this to become part of the Rules of Conduct for Elections.

The Law Commission, meanwhile, has asked various stakeholders, including political parties and the EC, for new positions on simultaneous elections based on six questions identified by the previous panel in its draft report on the politically sensitive subject.

The 22nd Legislative Panel released a public notice last month seeking stakeholder views.

Read all the latest political news here

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and was published from a syndicated news agency feed)

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