Strengthen electoral processes

Moa Jamir

On April 8, the Rising People’s Party (RPP) issued a statement claiming that there is hardly “any checking” and demanded explanations from the Commission for its “failure to uphold its constitutional obligation.” While such assertions and rhetoric are customary during election periods from a political party, objective observers would also argue that the activities associated with the model code of conduct (MCC) and other related mechanisms to safeguard electoral integrity are perceivably missing so far during the current cycle of election ion the State. 

There is a caveat too. Unlike State Assembly elections, parliamentary polls in Nagaland are usually tepid affairs, with just one seat at stake and voters often feeling disconnected from national issues. Nevertheless, since the ECI announced the election schedule for the 18th Lok Sabha on March 16, the MCC has been in effect, accompanied by comprehensive trainingsas well as constitution of various committees and other entities related to election. 

For instance, to ensure the sanctity of elections and foster a level playing field, the ECI employs a range of mechanisms. Among others, there are Expenditure Observers and Cells to monitor the election expenditure of candidates and political parties and ensure compliance with the rules and regulations set by the ECI regarding expenses. Media monitoring tracks political advertising and paid news, while Financial Intelligence Units collaborate with the ECI to detect suspicious financial transactions.

Additionally, Flying Squads Teams (FST) and Static Surveillance Teams (SST) are constituted to keep vigil “over excessive campaign expenses, distribution of items of bribe in cash or in kind, movement of illegal arms, ammunition, liquor, or antisocial elements, etc. in the constituency during the election process.”

As the name suggests, SST are deployed and stationed at specific locations to conduct surveillance to prevent the distribution of illegal inducements to voters. The FST are mobile units that move around a designated area to respond quickly to any reports of election violations and may conduct surprise checks, intercept vehicles suspected of transporting illicit materials, and take immediate action to maintain the integrity of the electoral process. SST, at times, carry out raids, inspections, and other activities to enforce election expenditure regulations.

These mechanisms were notably active during the Fourteenth Nagaland Legislative Assembly elections in February 2023, with regular updates on seizures and enforcement actions. However, the current election cycle seems devoid of such action or at least not in the public domain. While the Nagaland Police did report on operations targeting drug and alcohol-related issues from March 16, when election schedules were announced, to March 31, there was ambiguity whether it was election-related.

Following the ECI's announcement of election schedules, the Nagaland Chief Electoral Officer assured that preparations were underway to ensure fair polls, emphasizing voter participation and the containment of the "four Ms": Money, Muscle, Misinformation, and MCC violations.

However, with conspicuous silence on the non-participation declaration by the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation coupled with a lack of transparency in monitoring activities, doubts are raised regarding the efficacy of these measures. It is imperative for the ECI to address these concerns proactively and demonstrate a steadfast commitment to upholding the integrity of the electoral process.

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