Speech for Dhaka - 29-30 May 2010

"ELECTORAL DEMOCRACY IN INDIA"
PRESENTATION BY
THE CHIEF ELECTION COMMISSIONER OF INDIA, SHRI NAVIN B. CHAWLA AT A MEETING
OF EIGHT ELECTION COMMISSIONS OF THE SOUTH ASIA REGION AT DHAKA,
BANGLADESH ON 29-30 MAY, 2010.

THE 2009 GENERAL ELECTION – ITS CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is a constitutional body vested with the responsibilities of superintendence, direction and control of conduct of elections. It consists of a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners. The ECs and the CEC are appointed by the President on the advice of the Council of Ministers. They are accorded the rank of an incumbent Judge of the Supreme Court.

The ECI has comparatively a small secretariat consisting of about 300 officers and staff, in all headed by three Deputy Election Commissioners who are seconded senior civil servants. It is represented in the States again by a small office, under a Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). Therefore, the Commission is a lean organisation and has limited staff on a permanent basis. However, during elections State officials are taken on deputation to the Commission for conduct of elections on a temporary basis. However, at that point, they are under the discipline and control of the Commission.

The Commission conducts the elections to the office of the President and Vice-President, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. The Commission derives its authority from the Constitution. It has the power to register and recognize political parties, and it adjudicates on the disqualification of elected members. In discharge of its functions, it is independent of the executive. Though appointed by the Government, once appointed, the CEC cannot be removed without a cumbersome impeachment procedure. Nor can the terms of the office be modified to the disadvantage of the incumbent. The Commission intends to reiterate its pending proposal to Government, that the terms of removal of the two Election Commissioners are made the same as those of the Chief Election Commissioner. The Commission is free and indeed is the sole authority to decide the timings of the elections. Once the election process is set in motion by the Commission, the Courts do not interfere with the conduct of elections. Any dispute resolution, till such time as the elections are over, lies with the Commission. However, once the elections are over, the higher courts have the power to entertain election petitions filed by aggrieved parties (candidates) against each other. Normally the Commission or its officials cannot be made party in these cases. Over the years, the ECI has earned the credibility and respect of all stakeholders through impartial, free and fair conduct of parliamentary and state assembly elections conducted on time and successively over the years. Even the Courts, in various pronouncements, have upheld the actions initiated by the Commission to cleanse the electoral system of violence, "booth capturing" and other undue attempts to influence voters and the polls.

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