- Election manifesto - concept and relevance
A manifesto is generally defined as a published declaration of the intentions, motives
or views of an individual, group, political party or government whosoever issues
it. A manifesto usually comprises a previously published opinion or public consensus
and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes for
future. Oxford dictionary defines manifesto as a public declaration of the policy
and aims of a group such as political party. Thus an election manifesto is a published
document containing declaration of the ideology, intentions, views, policies and
programmes of a political party. The Election Manifestos are generally drafted by
the Political Parties keeping an eye on forthcoming elections and are generally
published and well publicized.
As already stated above, the election manifesto normally contains the declared ideology
of the political Party concerned in general and its policies and programmes for
the Country/State and people at large. It therefore serves as a reference document
or benchmark for the public at large for what a political party stands for. By comparing
the ideologies, policies and programmes of the political parties, the electors can
decide which party they should vote for to meet their expectations and aspirations.
- Election Manifestos over the years in the country – changes in trend
It may be mentioned that after independence, elections in our country have been
held from the year 1952 onwards. But all the political parties were not used to
publishing their ideologies, policies and programmes through the publication of
manifestos. Major political parties used to make public their ideologies, policies
and programmes not necessarily through manifestos.
However, in recent years many National and State parties are publishing their manifestos
for each general election and these manifestos generally contain, in addition to
the basic ideology of the parties, major policies, viz Economic Policy, foreign
policy, Plans, programmes and issues for governance, if they come to power. These
include but are not restricted to measures such as ensuring comprehensive social
security to those at special risk , making quality education affordable to everyone,
waiving of agricultural loans, pension scheme for aged and helpless farmers, provision
of safe drinking water facility and primary healthcare, medical cover for specified
categories of people such as widows, old age pensioners, farmers, abolishing of
child labour etc. In addition, there is a new trend started by some parties recently,
in which they directly promise such items which in common parlance are termed as
“Freebie” is defined in Webster dictionary as something given without
charge. Oxford dictionary defines freebie as something provided or given free of
charge. These promises may be aimed at targeted groups of electorate like, BPL families,
weaker sections of the society, women, handicapped etc., as well as at electorate
as a whole.
- Observations and directions of Supreme Court
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its judgment/orde
r dated 5th July 2013 in SLP(C) No. 21455 of 2008 has inter alia directed
the Election Commission of India to frame guidelines on election manifesto to be
included as part of the Model Code of Conduct. The Supreme Court has observed and
directed that :
Para (77) of the Supreme Court Judgment:- 77) Although, the law
is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt
practice’ under Section 123 of RP Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that
distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people. It shakes
the root of free and fair elections to a large degree. The Election Commission through
its counsel also conveyed the same feeling both in the affidavit and in the argument
that the promise of such freebies at government cost disturbs the level playing
field and vitiates the electoral process and thereby expressed willingness to implement
any directions or decision of this Court in this regard.
Para (78) :-78) As observed in the earlier part of the judgment,
this Court has limited power to issue directions to the legislature to legislate
on a particular issue. However, the Election Commission, in order to ensure level
playing field between the contesting parties and candidates in elections and also
in order to see that the purity of the election process does not get vitiated, as
in past been issuing instructions under the Model Code of Conduct. The fountainhead
of the powers under which the commission issues these orders is Article 324 of the
Constitution, which mandates the commission to hold free and fair elections. It
is equally imperative to acknowledge that the Election Commission cannot issue such
orders if the subject matter of the order of commission is covered by a legislative
Para (79):- 79) Therefore, considering that there is no enactment
that directly governs the contents of the election manifesto, we hereby direct the
Election Commission to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with all the
recognized political parties as when it had acted while framing guidelines for general
conduct of the candidates, meetings, processions, polling day, party in power etc.
In the similar way, a separate head for guidelines for election manifesto released
by a political party can also be included in the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance
of Political Parties & Candidates. We are mindful of the fact that generally
political parties release their election manifesto before the announcement of election
date, in that scenario, strictly speaking, the Election Commission will not have
the authority to regulate any act which is done before the announcement of
the date. Nevertheless, an exception can be made in this regard as the purpose of
election manifesto is directly associated with the election process.
Para (80) :- 80) We hereby direct the Election Commission to take
up this task as early as possible owing to its utmost importance. We also record
the need for a separate legislation to be passed by the legislature in this regard
for governing the political parties in our democratic society.|
Existing Model Code of Conduct- relevant provisions
The current model code of conduct contains some relevant provisions on corrupt practices
by parties and candidates and related to promise by the party in power etc. They
are reproduced below:-
Sub-para (4) of Para I. General Conduct stipulates that –
“(4) All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which
are “corrupt practices” and offences under the election law, such as
bribing of voters, intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within
100 meters of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48
hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of poll, and the transport and conveyance
of voters to and from polling station”.
Para VII. Party in Power stipulates inter alia that –
The party in power whether at the Centre or in the State or States concerned, shall
ensure that no cause is given for any complaint that it has used its official position
for the purposes of its election campaign and in particular-
(v) Ministers and other authorities shall not sanction grants/payments out of discretionary
funds from the time elections are announced by the Commission; and
(vi)From the time elections are announced by the Commission, Ministers and other
authorities shall not –
- Announce any financial grants in any form or promises thereof; or
(b) (except civil servants) lay foundation stones etc., of projects or schemes of
any kinds; or
(c) Make any promise of construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities
(d) Make any ad-hoc appointments in Government, Public Undertakings etc., which
may have the effect of influencing the voters in favour of the party in power.
5. Practice in other Democracies – manifestos/policy documents by political
parties – legal provisions – guidelines – regulatory mechanism – role of EMBs in
Information on international practices, that could be gathered from two international
organizations and seven election management bodies, in response to a set of questions
circulated to more than 30 organisations, has been compiled and is attached as Annexure.
- (a) Guiding principles for framing guidelines
The Supreme Court in its judgment has directed the Election Commission
to frame guidelines for the contents of election manifestos in consultation with
all the recognized political parties. The guiding principles which will lead to
framing of such guidelines are quoted below from the judgment:-
- “Although, the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto
cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of RP Act,
the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly,
influences all people. It shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large
- “The Election Commission, in order to ensure level playing field between the
contesting parties and candidates in elections and also in order to see that the
purity of the election process does not get vitiated, as in past been issuing instructions
under the Model Code of Conduct”.
“We are mindful of the fact that generally political parties release their
election manifesto before the announcement of election date, in that scenario, strictly
speaking, the Election Commission will not have the authority to regulate any act
which is done before the announcement of the date. Nevertheless, an exception can
be made in this regard as the purpose of election manifesto is directly associated
with the election process”.
In the light of aforesaid observations of the Hon”ble Supreme Court, it is
important to recognize the public perception of the electorate in this country to
promises of freebies.
- Points for suggestions from political parties.
- Suggestions/views of Political Parties on broad framework of guidelines on Election
Manifesto & Freebies.
- Suggestions/views with regard to Timing of release of Election Manifestos by Political
Parties. Having regard to the Supreme Court’s observation that the part relating
to election manifestos should be included in the Model Code of Conduct and that
such part of the Model Code may come into force even prior to the date of announcement
of election schedule by the Election Commission, what may be a reasonable window
before announcement of elections within which the political parties may issue/release
- Suggest mechanism for ensuring compliance of guidelines to be issued.
- Suggestions/ views with regard to “freebies” in the Election Manifesto,
keeping in view the observation/directions of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court
expressed its concern over the issue of freebies being promised in the election
manifestos of political parties. The definition of freebies has been explained in
the foregoing paragraph number 2. What should in the view of the
political parties, be considered as freebies?
- Suggestions/views on practicability of implementation of promises of freebies in
reference to their social and economic impact.
A compilation of available international practices with ref. to Manifestos
Practice of issuing manifestos, their content and time of issue:
- Issuing manifestos is increasingly common around the world. Manifestos normally
indicate broad policy/programmes of a political party/candidate on political, economic
and social matters.
- In the United States, the nature of political party platforms is
policy based, generally covering economic policy, foreign policy, healthcare, governance
reform, environmental issues, immigration, etc. These do not offer specific benefits,
but outline plans and policies that would benefit large groups of population.
- In many West European countries, manifestos tend to mention more
concrete policy choices as well as their budgetary implications. Sometimes, parties
add financial paragraphs to their manifestos, which may be submitted to a Court
of Audit (if it exists), which calculates how realistic each manifesto is.
- In Bhutan, political parties are required
to submit a copy of their election manifesto to the Election Commission, before
primary round of National Assembly elections. Manifestos are issued to the public
only with the approval of the Election Commission. Content
is largely policies and development plans and programmes which a party will implement,
if elected. Election Commission thoroughly vets the election manifestos, and filters
out issues with potential to undermine the security and stability of the nation.
Further, manifestos cannot contain anything that seeks electoral gains by campaigning
on the ground of religion, ethnicity, region, prerogatives of the King and the State,
national identity etc.
- In Mexico, to be eligible to nominate candidates for a Federal
election, a party must submit an electoral platform for registration and validation
by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). The platform essentially contains principles/proposals
which the party would uphold on three broad issues: politics, economics and social.
The contents must be in line with declaration of principles and programme of action
that the party submitted with their application for legal registration. IFE verifies
that the electoral platform is in line with the basic documents of the party. Certification
of registration and validation of the platform is essential for nomination of candidates.
- As regards content, there appears to be a thin line between policy pledges and promises
of freebies aimed at vote buying. These need to be differentiated, while considering
- Manifestoes are issued before the elections – the period ranging from three weeks
(Bhutan) to two months (United States) to five
months (Mexico) before election day.
Legal provisions/guidelines regarding manifestos.
- In Bhutan and Mexico, Electoral Authorities have
power to vet manifestos and get certain types of content removed (as above).
- In the United Kingdom, the Electoral authority issues guidelines
for campaign materials (which would apply to manifestos also).
- In the United States (without a central EMB), the State-level EMB
regulations generally do not include any provisions about political party platforms.
It is the Party Committee which governs internally and develops the platform of
a party for a particular election, as per the Charter and By-Laws of the party.
- Most other democracies do not seem to have any legal provisions/guidelines specifically
for manifestos, although in some countries (e.g. United Kingdom,
the Netherlands) legal provisions applicable to offensive campaign
material would seem to apply to content of manifestos as well.
- Regulatory mechanisms operate in Bhutan and Mexico, as above.
- In the United Kingdom, the Electoral authority issues guidelines
for campaign materials (which would apply to manifestos also), but does have no
- In major democracies such as the United States, Sweden,
Canada, the Netherlands and Austria, EMBs/Electoral Authorities
have no role in relation to manifestos.
Role of EMBs in enforcement
- In Bhutan and Mexico, manifestos require approval/validation by
the Electoral authority before their release.
- Other democracies do not seem to have taken any steps so far in this direction.