Here’s what you need to know about Model Code of Conduct!

Puzzled on what can and cannot be done by politicians during elections? Figure it out now - read on!

Last week, when I and my wife were going out, we saw a small political rally behind us. What caught my attention was, one of the politicians who was the centre of attraction in the rally, was using an official vehicle. This left me wondering whether using office vehicle in political campaigning is allowed.

So I did my research and bumped on to this set of guidelines called ‘Model Code of Conduct.’ Here is a look at what the Model Code of Conduct is, what does the code talk about electoral violations, how do citizens know if they are witnessing a violation, and what to do in case of a violation.

What is code of conduct?

The Model Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines/norms which are meant to be followed by political parties and candidates in ‘law and spirit’ during a particular election cycle (date from which election dates are announced – process of elections completed). The code is enforced by the Election Commission.

The code itself is quite broad and has been divided into different sections (general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booth, observers and party in power)

General conduct:

The code stipulates that political parties and candidates should not indulge in behaviour that causes/aggravates tensions between different castes, communities – religious or linguistic. Further, there can be no appeal to particular castes/ community for securing votes, and places of religious worship are to be avoided for election propaganda.

The code also outrightly prohibits unscrupulous activities such as bribing of voters, voter intimidation, impersonation of voters. The code does not allow canvassing within 100 meters of polling booths, and transporting voters to and from polling booths.

The code is quite clear that no party or candidate, or their followers can use an individual’s land, wall, premises without that person’s permission to erect flags, banners, notices, slogans etc. The code also talks about the need for political parties not to disturb/obstruct the election work carried out by rival political parties.

Under the meetings section, the code talks about the rules in place for any meeting by a political party to take place. Essentially, the party has to take permission from the police or other such authorities (as the case may be)  to ensure that meetings can be held in a certain area. This may also include permission from the appropriate authorities to use loudspeakers.

Processions

This section puts together the most useful rules every citizen would want to know. Any political party/candidate organising a procession will have to chalk out well in advance the place where the procession starts, the route to be followed, and the time and place where the procession will end. The organisers have to intimate the police and get the approval/permission from the competent authority for the procession to go ahead, and will have to ensure that there is no hindrance or blockage to traffic. The code stipulates that the help and advice of the local police will be taken for the procession.

Polling Day section

The code lays down the specific guidelines on what parties, candidates and their supporters can and cannot do during the election day, and in some cases 48 hours before the polling day beings. Some of these are highlighted below

  • Co-operate with the authorities for orderly polling
  • No obstruction to hinder voters from exercising their franchise freely
  • Political parties have to supply appropriate badges to their workers
  • Refrain from distributing alcohol on polling day and 48 hours preceding it
  • Avoid unnecessary build-up of workers near camps set up by political parties
  • Ensure that the candidate camps are simple and no display of posters, flags or any propaganda material at these camps.

Polling booth section

The rule is clear – ‘except the voter, no one without a valid pass from the Election Commission shall enter the polling booths’

Observers section

The code stipulates that if any party or a candidate has any concerns or any specific complaints, they can bring it to the notice of the Election Observer.

Party in power

This has been specifically created to make sure that the government in power does not use the official machinery at its disposal to abuse/influence the election process and outcomes. While there are whole set of rules under this code, the ones which will be most helpful to citizens are:

  • Ministers should not combine official trips with electioneering work
  • Use of public spaces for electioneering should not be monopolised by the ruling party, they should be available to all political parties under the same set of guidelines
  • The ruling party should avoid issue of advertisements in mass media (which could constitute abuse of authority) at cost to the public exchequer, which is seen to promote that political party under the guise of promoting an official project.
  • No sanction of grants/payment out of discretionary funds from the date elections are announced
  • No laying of foundation stones for projects or schemes of any kind
  • No promise of road construction, water connections etc

If citizens note any violations, they can report them to the Election Commission, Karnataka by calling a toll-free number 1950. The violations can also be reported to the respective observers deputed for the area.

There is said to be a provision for citizens to complain via the Election Commission website, though at the time of writing this article, that facility did not appear to work.

The Model Code of Conduct published by the Election Commission can be found here.

The complete notification for the Model Code of Conduct can be found here.

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