Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat on Thursday vehemently ruled out the possibility of holding simultaneous elections to the state assemblies along with the Lok Sabha polls anytime soon, bringing an end to all supposition. Rawat also said a legal framework is needed to be in place for holding simultaneous polls.
“Koi chance nahi” (no chance at all), Rawat told a select media to meet in Aurangabad when asked if it was feasible to hold simultaneous Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections in the near future.
In the recent weeks, there have been speculations that Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram due to this year-end may be delayed and held simultaneously along with the Lok Sabha elections, scheduled for April-May 2019.
While the term of the Mizoram Assembly ends on December 15, the terms of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan assemblies will end on January 5, January 7 and January 20, 2019, respectively.
Rawat’s comments also come against the backdrop of BJP president Amit Shah’s recent call for a “healthy and open debate” among stakeholders for simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state Assemblies. “The lawmakers will take at least a year to frame a law that can be enforceable. This process takes time. As soon as the Bill to amend the Constitution is ready, we (the Election Commission) will know that things are now moving),” Rawat said.
The Election Commission commences preparations for the Lok Sabha elections 14 months before the scheduled timeframe of polling, Rawat said. “The Commission has a staff strength of just 400 but deploys 1.11 crore people on poll duty during elections,” he said.
To a query on complaints of “failure” of the Electronic Voting Machines(EVMs), Rawat lamented that in many quarters in India, the understanding of the EVM system “isn’t comprehensive enough”.
“There is just a 0.5 to 0.6 percent rate of failure and such a rate of machine failure is acceptable, ” he said.
Rawat also said the Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPAT) usage is a new concept which was put in place after the Commission made a commitment to have 100 percent VVPATs following “political pressure”, he said.
In Meghalaya assembly bypolls, there were complaints of VVPAT malfunctioning but that could have been avoided had the authorities there used a high humidity paper, keeping in view that there is high rainfall in the state, he said. “You all know that Cherrapunjee, which records the highest rainfall, is in that state,” Rawat said.
To a query, he said the percentage of NOTA option in elections is normally between 1.2 and 1.4 percent.
Replying to another query, Rawat said the Election Commission enjoys full autonomy as can be seen from the manner in which poll officials didn’t budge under political pressure in the Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat in 2017.
The Congress had then said two of its MLAs had cross-voted and showed their ballot papers to BJP president Amit Shah. The EC ruled in Congress’ favor, declaring that the two MLAs had violated polling procedures and secrecy of the ballot.