Elections take place regularly in any democracy. In democracies, people rule through their representatives. Election is a mechanism by which people can choose their representatives at regular intervals and change them if they wish to do so. Therefore, elections are considered essential for any representative democracy.

Conditions of Democratic Elections

  1. Everyone should have one vote and every vote should have equal value.
  2. Parties and candidates should be free to contest elections and should offer some real choice to the voters.
  3. The choice should be offered at regular intervals. Elections must be held regularly after every few years.
  4. The candidate preferred by the people should get elected.
  5. Elections should be conducted in a free and fair manner where people can choose as they really wish.

Political Competition

At the constituency level, the competition is among several candidates. If there is no competition, elections will become pointless.

Political leaders, like all other professionals, are motivated by a desire to advance their political careers. They want to remain in power or get power and positions for themselves. Regular electoral competition provides incentives to political parties and leaders.

They know that if they raise issues that people want to be raised, their popularity and chances of victory will increase in the next elections. But if they fail to satisfy the voters with their work they will not be able to win again. So if a political party is motivated only by desire to be in power, even then it will be forced to serve the people.

Elections in India

Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections are held regularly after every five years. After five years the term of all the elected representatives comes to an end. Elections are held in all constituencies at the same time, either on the same day or within a few days. This is called a general election.

Sometimes election is held only for one constitutency to fill the vacancy caused by death or resignation of a member. This is called a by-election.

Electoral Constituencies

India is divided into different areas for purposes of elections. These areas are called electoral constitutencies. The voters who live in an area elect one representative. For Lok Sabha elections, the country is divided into 543 constituencies. The representative elected from each constituency is called a Member of Parliament or an MP.

Similarly, each state is divided into a specific number of Assembly constituencies. In this case, the elected representative is called the Member of Legislative Assembly or an MLA.

Each Parliamentary constituency has within it several assembly constituencies. The same principle applies for Panchayat and Municipal elections.

Reserved Constituencies

Some constituencies are reserved for people who belong to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In a SC reserved constituency only someone who belongs to the Scheduled Castes can stand for election. Similarly only those belonging to the Scheduled Tribes can contest an election from a constituency reserved for ST.  The number of reserved constituencies is in proportion to their share in the total population.

List of Voters

Once the constituencies are decided, the next step is to decide who can and who cannot vote. This decision cannot be left to anyone till the last day. In a democratic election, the list of those who are eligible to vote is prepared much before the election and given to everyone. This list is officially called the Electoral Roll.

In India, all the citizens aged 18 years and above can vote in an election. Every citizen has the right to vote, regardless of his or her caste, religion or gender. It is the responsibility of the government to get the names of all the eligible voters put on the voters’ list. A complete revision of the list takes place every five years.

Nomination of Candidates

In a democratic election people should have a real choice. This happens only when there are almost no restrictions on anyone to contest an election.

Anyone who can be a voter can also become a candidate in elections. The only difference is that in order to be a candidate the minimum age is 25 years, while it is only 18 years for being a voter. Political parties nominate their candidates who get the party symbol and support. Party’s nomination is often called party ‘ticket’.

Every person who wishes to contest an election has to fill a ‘nomination form’ and give some money as ‘security deposit’. Recently, a new system of declaration has been introduced on direction from the Supreme Court.

Election Campaign

The main purpose of election is to give people a chance to choose the representatives, the government and the policies they prefer. Therefore it is necessary to have a free and open discussion about who is a better representative, which party will make a better government or what is a good policy. This is what happens during election campaigns.

In election campaigns, political parties try to focus public attention on some big issues. They want to attract the public to that issue and get them to vote for their party on that basis.

Polling and Counting of Votes

The final stage of an election is the day when the voters cast or ‘poll’ their vote. That day is usually called the election day. Every person whose name is on the voters’ list can go to a nearby ‘polling booth’, situated usually in a local school or a government office.

Earlier the voters used to indicate who they wanted to vote for by putting a stamp on the ballot paper. Nowadays electronic voting machines (EVM) are used to record votes. Once the polling is over, all the EVMs are sealed and taken to a secure place.

A few days later, on a fixed date, all the EVMs from a constituency are opened and the votes secured by each candidate are counted. The candidate who secures the highest number of votes from a constituency is declared elected. 

Independent Election Commission

In India, elections are conducted by an independent and very powerful Election Commission (EC). It enjoys the same kind of independence that the judiciary enjoys. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is appointed by the President of India. But once appointed, the Chief Election Commissioner is not answerable to the President or the government. 

Powers of the Election Commission

  • EC takes decisions on every aspect of conduct and control of elections from the announcement of elections to the declaration of results.
  • It implements the Code of Conduct and punishes any candidate or party that violates it.
  • During the election period, the EC can order the government to follow some guidelines, to prevent use and misuse of governmental power to enhance its chances to win elections, or to transfer some government officials.
  • When on election duty, government officers work under the control of the EC and not the government.

Political Parties

A political party is a group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government. They agree on some policies and programmes for the society with a view to promote the collective good.

Since there can be different views on what is good for all, parties try to persuade people why their policies are better than others. They seek to implement these policies by winning popular support through elections.

Functions of Political Parties

  1. Parties contest elections. In most democracies, elections are fought mainly among the candidates put up by political parties.
  2. Parties put forward different policies and programmes and the voters choose from them.
  3. Parties play a decisive role in making laws for a country.
  4. Parties form and run governments.
  5. Those parties that lose in the elections play the role of opposition to the parties in power, by voicing different views and criticising government for its failures or wrong policies.
  6. Parties shape public opinion. They raise and highlight issues.
  7. Parties provide people access to government machinery and welfare schemes implemented by governments. For an ordinary citizen it is easy to approach a local party leader than a government officer.

The rise of political parties is directly linked to the emergence of representative democracies. As societies became large and complex, they also needed some agency to gather different views on various issues and to present these to the government. Political parties fulfil these needs that every representative government has.

State and National Political Parties

Democracies that follow a federal system all over the world tend to have two kinds of political parties: parties that are present in only one of the federal units and parties that are present in several or all units of the federation. This is the case in India as well.

There are some countrywide parties, which are called national parties. These parties have their units in various states. Every party in the country has to register with the Election Commission. While the Commission treats all parties equally, it offers some special facilities to large and established parties. These parties are given a unique symbol and only the official candidates of that party can use that election symbol.

A party that secures at least six per cent of the total votes in an election to the Legislative Assembly of a State and wins at least two seats is recognised as a State party. A party that secures at least six per cent of the total votes in Lok Sabha elections or Assembly elections in four States and wins at least four seats in the Lok Sabha is recognised as a national party.

There are many recognised national parties in India:

  • All India Trinamool Congress (AITC)
  • Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)
  • Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
  • Communist Party of India (CPI)
  • Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M)
  • Indian National Congress (INC)
  • Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)