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Election Commission's role in recent Rajya Sabha elections
Aug 12, 2017

[GS Paper II: (Powers, functions and responsibilities of various constitutional bodies; Salient features of RPA)]

Why in news?

  • In the recently concluded Rajya Sabha (RS) elections in Gujarat, two MLAs violated the voting procedure which led to the cancellation of their votes.
  • The MLAs belonging to the opposition allegedly violated the secrecy of the votes by showing it to a person from the ruling party.
  • The Returning Officer (RO) first rejected the petition of the opposition party to reject the votes. However, later the Election Commission (EC) disqualified the votes after watching the video footage of the polls.

Controversial Issues

  • Anti-Defection law: The six congress MLAs who defected to BJP were disqualified from voting. The seven who cross-voted were not disqualified as the anti-defection law operates only when the whip is violated as a part of legislative proceedings but an election is not considered a part of those proceedings. 
  • NOTA (None-of-the-above): The applicability of NOTA in RS elections was challenged by the Congress party in Supreme Court which ruled that it would continue to remain. SC’s refusal to stay was mainly based on Article 329 that specifically prohibits any judicial interference in the election process that has been set in motion.
  • Secrecy of ballots:  According to the election rules, the voter in RS elections should show his vote to an authorised representative of his party and no one else (Rule 39, Code of Election Rules, 1961). In Gujarat elections, two Congress MLAs showed their vote to rival BJP leaders and hence violated the secrecy rule. 

Role of EC 

  • The EC used the powers vested in it by Article 324 of the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 to strike down the Returning Officer’s decision on the breach of procedure and ballot secrecy by two Congress legislators. 
  • EC ensured a level playing field to all the parties and played its role as the fair and impartial arbiter of polls. 

PT Facts

  • Article 80(4) of Constitution of India provides that members of Rajya Sabha shall be elected by the elected members of State Legislative Assemblies through the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.
  • Article 324 of the Constitution vests the power of superintendence, direction and control of elections to parliament, state legislatures, the office of president of India and the office of vice-president in election commission of India. 
  • The provisions for Rajya Sabha elections were amended in 2003 through an amendment in Representation of People’s Act 1951 which removed the domicile criteria for Rajya Sabha members and introduced open ballot system in Rajya Sabha elections.
  • In the open ballot system, a voter is required to get her ballot paper verified by the authorised agent of the political party to which she belongs. The vote is treated as invalid without such verification.


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