Model Code of Conduct (MCC): The Election Commission of India has announced that the country would vote in seven phases for the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections 2019, starting from April 11 to May 19, 2019. The Results of the Lok Sabha Elections 2019 would be out on May 23, 2019. With this, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) comes into effect.

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What is the Model Code of Conduct (MCC)?

Model Code of Conduct (MCC)

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a consensus document which embodies guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India. The philosophy behind the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is to have political parties and candidates observe a proper conduct during elections mainly with respect to speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, election manifestos, processions and general conduct.

Through a Model Code of Conduct (MCC), political parties jointly agree to keep their conduct in check during elections and work in and around the Code. Through this, the parties and candidates inadvertently give respect to their opponents, criticise their policies and programmes constructively, instead of resorting to taking potshots, or mudslinging and personal attacks.

The Model Code of Conduct is intended to help the poll campaign display and maintain high standards of public morality and provide a level playing field for all parties and candidates.

Key Guidelines of the Model Code of Conduct

  • The government bodies must not to participate in any recruitment process during the electoral process.
  • The contesting candidates and their campaigners should ensure respect for the home life of their rivals and must not disturb them by holding road shows or demonstrations in front of their houses.
  • The election campaign rallies and road shows must not hinder the road traffic.
  • Candidates are asked to refrain from distributing liquor to voters. It is a widely known fact that in India, liquor gets distributed to the voters during election campaigning.
  • The election code in force hinders the government or ruling party leaders from launching new welfare programmes like construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc. or any ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
  • The Code instructs that public spaces like meeting grounds, helipads, government guest houses and bungalows should be equally shared among the contesting candidates. These public spaces should not be monopolized by a few candidates.
  • On polling day, all party candidates should cooperate with the poll-duty officials at the voting booths for an orderly voting process. Candidates should not display their election symbols near and around the poll booths on the polling day. No one should enter the booths without a valid pass from the Election Commission.
  • There will be poll observers to whom any complaints can be reported or submitted.
  • The Ruling Party should not use its seat of power for campaign purposes.
  • The Ruling Party ministers should not make any ad-hoc appointment of officials, which may influence the voters in favour of the party in power.
  • Before using loud-speakers during their poll campaigning, candidates and political parties must obtain permission or license from the local authorities.
  • The candidates should inform the local police for conducting election rallies to enable the police authorities to make required security arrangements.

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How did the Model Code of Conduct come into place and how has it evolved over the years?

  • Notably, Kerala was the first state to adopt a code of conduct for elections.
  • In the year 1960, the state administration prepared a draft code ahead of the Assembly elections, which covered important aspects of electioneering such as processions, political rallies, and speeches.
  • The experiment turned out to be successful and the Election Commission decided to emulate Kerala’s example. They decided to circulate the draft among all recognised parties and state governments for the Lok Sabha elections of 1962.
  • However, it was only in 1974 before the mid-term general elections, that the EC released a formal Model Code of Conduct. Notably, this Code was also circulated during the parliamentary elections of 1977.
  • Till this time, the MCC was only expected to guide the conduct of political parties and candidates. However, on September 12, 1979, post a meeting comprising of all political parties, the Commission was apprised of the misuse of official machinery by parties in power.
  • The Commission was told that ruling parties were monopolising spaces which made it difficult for others to hold meetings. There were other complaints of the party in power publishing advertisements at the cost of the public exchequer to influence voters. All of this led to the change in the Code by the Election Commission.
  • Therefore, just before the 1979 Lok Sabha elections, the EC released a revised Model Code in 7 parts. One part was devoted to the party in power with a certain framework provided to them on what they can and cannot do once the elections were announced.
  • The MCC has been revised on several occasions since then.

Restrictions under the Model Code of Conduct (MCC)

  • The MCC contains 8 different provisions for dealing with general conduct, processions, meetings, polling day, observers, polling booths, election manifestos, and the party in power.
  • The Ruling Party, in both the Centre and the States, should not use its position during campaigning/advertising once the MCC comes into effect.
  • The party in power should also see to it that it does not employ the public treasury or any official media for promoting achievements.
  • The MCC also mentions that the ministers must not use any government transport or combine official visits with promotional campaigns for the election.
  • The MCC should also not use any government transport or combine official visits with promotional campaigns for the election.
  • The Ruling Party must also make sure that same terms and conditions are provided to both the opposition parties and the party in power for election works.
  • The Code also states that political parties must be criticised strictly on the work record and not on behalf of their caste and communal sentiments. Places of worship like mosques, temples, churches, cannot be used for electoral propaganda.
  • Additionally, bribing, intimidating or impersonation of voters is also restricted.
  • Holding any public meetings during ‘Election Silence’, a 48-hour cooing period before the commencement of the polls is also restricted.
  • ‘Election Silence’ is based on an idea that a voter should be able to get a campaign-free environment to make a final decision before casting vote.

Social Media coverage of the Model Code of Conduct?

The EC had taken the view that the MCC will also apply to content posted by the political parties and candidates on the Internet, including on social media sites.

On October 25, 2013, the Election Commission laid down guidelines to regulate usage of social media by parties and candidates. Candidates need to provide email address and details of accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc., and add the expenditure on advertisements posted on social media to their overall expenditure for the election.

Till which period does the Model Code of Conduct apply?

The date of the enforcement of MCC has overseen tussle between the EC and government and has evolved over years. Consequently, the Code now kicks in as soon as the election schedule is announced and stays in force until the Election Process is completed.

Therefore, the Code came into effect on March 10, when the EC had its press conference to announce the Lok Sabha elections. It will remain in force until the Commission notifies the list of elected representatives. The counting of votes is scheduled for May 23.

Is the Model Code of Conduct legally enforceable?

Despite being around for almost 4 decades, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is not a legally enforceable document. Generally, the Commission employs moral sanction to get political parties and candidates to fall in line.

The government, in the past, has attempted to amend The Representation of the People Act, 1951, to make some violations of the MCC illegal and punishable. However, the EC now holds the opinion that making the Code legally enforceable would be self-defeating since any violation must be responded to quickly. This will, however, not be possible if the matter goes to court.