- Model Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India to regulate political parties and candidates before elections.
- It helps the EC in keeping with the mandate it has been given under Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives it the power to supervise and conduct free and fair elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures.
- The MCC is operational from the date on which the election schedule is announced until the date of the result announcement.
- Legal Enforcement Though MCC does not have any statutory backing, the Code has come to acquire teeth in the past decade because of its strict enforcement by the EC.
- Certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure,1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.
- For Example; Inciting hatred through political speeches, Appealing to caste and community feelings of voters, Intimidating or bribing voters, and distributing liquor or holding public meetings in the 48 hours preceding the close of polling, are all such offenses for which candidates can be tried under the Indian Penal Code or the Representation of the People Act 1951
- The regulation of opinion polls and exit polls during the period notified by the ECI.
- The prohibition of advertisements in print media on polling day and one day prior to it unless the contents are pre-certified by screening committees.
- The restriction on government advertisements featuring political functionaries during the election period.
Historical background of the Model Code of Conduct:
The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has its roots in the electoral history of India. It originated in the state of Kerala, and with time, it has evolved into the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).
- MCC traces its origins to the 1960 Assembly elections in Kerala, where a ‘Code of Conduct’ was prepared by the State Administration for political leaders.
- Subsequently, in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) circulated the code to all recognized political parties and State governments, which was generally followed.
- However, to address the issue of corrupt electoral practices, using muscle power and money from 1962 to 1991, the ECI refined the code, adding a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage during elections.
- The code was renamed the MCC and made more stringent, but despite demands that it be incorporated into the law, no such legislation was passed.
- After 1991, the ECI enforced the MCC using new means, and in cases of violation, the Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan exercised constitutional power under Article 324 to postpone elections.
- In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to include guidelines on election manifestos in the MCC, which were subsequently included in the code for the 2014 general elections.
Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates:
- Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programs, past record, and work.
- Activities such as using caste and communal feelings to secure votes, criticizing candidates on the basis of unverified reports, bribing or intimidating voters, etc. are prohibited.
Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
- If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, the political parties must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash.
- Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
- Only voters and those with a valid pass from the EC are allowed to enter polling booths.
- All authorized party workers at polling booths should be given suitable badges or identity cards.
- Identity slips supplied by them to voters shall be on plain (white) paper and shall not contain any symbol, name of the candidate, or the name of the party.
The EC will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
Party in Power:
- The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power. Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.
- The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.
- From the time elections are announced by the Commission, the ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc. Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses, and these must not be monopolized by the party in power.
K.G. Uthayakumar v. The State
- According to the State’s assessment on January 7, 2015, the defendant broke the Model Code of Conduct for Elections by residing on the premises of the Public Works Department.
- He had committed an electoral offense under Section 171 of the Indian Penal Code, as per Section 154 of the Criminal Code of Procedure, for which anyone could lodge a complaint with the police station, district collector, and revenue division officer.
M.V Nikesh Kumar v K.M Shaji
- The petitioner claimed that the respondent, a Muslim candidate and party member, specifically sought Muslim votes because of their religion in the litigation M.V. Nikesh Kumar v. K.M. Shaji, which was filed on November 9, 2018.
- They distributed leaflets that praised Islam in an effort to maximize the number of votes cast in favor of their campaign.
- Therefore, the respondent was declared the winner. The Representation of Peoples Act, 1951’s Sections 100(1)(b) and 100(1)d(ii) may therefore be invoked to rule that the respondent’s claim is invalid. As a result, the petitioner was legitimately elected.
K.K Ramesh vs National Human Rights Commission
- On March 26, 2019, the candidate for K.K. Ramesh v. National Human Rights Commission shut down traffic to build up temporary flex boards and temporary Dias for public meetings.
- He must answer for violating the Model Code of Conduct, the judge determined.
While implementing the MCC there are many limitations that arise. Some of the challenges faced by the Model Code of Conduct are listed below.
Ease of Access:
- Social media presents a big problem for EC due to the rapid expansion of digital communication in India and the fact that they are unregulated brings concerns about free speech and unrestricted internet access.
- The EC lacks the surveillance capabilities and resources necessary to enforce and penalize MCC violations.
Challenges regarding Fake News:
- Digital media also leads to unverified and intended fake news.
- The EC should charge a high fine per view for any advertisement that violates the regulations in order to fix the issue.
- The EC must establish clear guidelines and set penalties.
Challenges in Monitoring of Election Expenditure:
In the digital age, it is difficult to track financial trails and poll expenditures.
Lack of Transparency and Social Media Political Advertising:
- A “voluntary code of ethics” was proposed by Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google, ShareChat, and TikTok in March 2019.
- That includes demanding transparency in political advertisements. Although a significant start has been made, the electoral commission will still face difficulties in achieving complete transparency.
The unclear line between Private and Public:
- Social media has made the line between private and public more unclear.
- Implementing MCC has become challenging due to modern methods like live webcasting, letting election-related content go viral, using celebrities as “influencers,” etc.
The problem faced due to the encryption policies of WhatsApp:
There are significant gaps, such as the fact that the rules of the election commission do not apply to closed networks like WhatsApp where users communicate privately.
Companies based abroad run digital businesses like Facebook. For Indian agencies, it has been challenging to hold them responsible.
Similar obstacles will need to be overcome by EC to stop infringement of the Model Code of Conduct.