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Election manifesto should be SMART

Specific to the needs of people with Measurable promises that will be Achievable and Realistic, and fulfilled in a Time-bound manner

Election manifesto should be SMART

The elections in Telangana are approaching and if the media reports are true, they will be held sometime during November-end or December first-week of this year. Every political party is busy drafting manifestos. An election manifesto is a strategy and philosophy of a political party outlining its aims and objectives. It contains a declaration of its ideology, intentions, views, policies, and programmes explaining what it will do if it comes to power. Through the election manifesto, the voters come to know about the political party having an opportunity to think of which party will prove the better for them so that they can decide.

The manifesto shall be Specific to the needs of people, with Measurable promises that are necessary to be Achievable and Realistic so that the promises could be fulfilled in a Time Bound manner. In other words, the election manifesto shall necessarily be a SMART one. How many parties take note of this is a million dollar question.

Election manifestos are generally forgotten once the elections are over, however, the present Telangana Government fulfilled the election promises made in its 2014 manifesto and even gone beyond it. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has kept the manifesto like a holy book on his table for sustained inspiration. KCR wrote the manifesto for its people, obtained their mandate, and has been implementing the same as promised.

It is unfortunate that even a Constitutional Body like the Election Commission of India is not in a position to restrict the parties from resorting to unfulfilled and impracticable promises. Consequent to consultations with representatives of national and regional parties sometime during August 2013, the Election Commission of India (EC) issued some namesake instructions and guidelines to parties on manifestos. EC guidelines said that "In the interest of transparency, level playing field, and credibility of promises, it is expected that manifestos also reflect the rationale for promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it. Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled." EC also said poll manifestos "should not have anything repugnant" or anything that ran against the ideals of the Constitution.

Meeting with political parties was organised in the wake of the Supreme Court Judgement a few days prior to the meet, directing the EC to frame guidelines on election manifesto as part of a model code of conduct. SC in its directions referred to the distribution of freebies of some kind or other as a promise in the manifesto to influence people. It observed that it shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.

The Apex Court directed the EC to frame guidelines and include the same in the model code of conduct. It also expressed the view that there is a need for a separate legislation to be passed by the legislature in this regard for governing the political parties in our democratic society. Nothing concrete, however, did happen in spite of all this.

There were only negligible instances when Election Commission took objection to the content of a manifesto, as happened in the case of Tamil Nadu Elections in 2016 when notices were issued to AIADMK and DMK which was the first of its kind and may be the last as well. This was done on the grounds that their election manifestos do not "substantially" fulfil the guidelines. In the notice, the EC asked them to explain their stand on non-compliance of the guidelines of the Commission and also reflect the rationale for the promises made in their manifestos, broadly indicating the ways to meet the financial requirement for the same. This should be a regular affair.

Issuing manifestos is a common practice all over the globe. If they broadly indicate policies and programs of the political party, no one will have any objection. If they depict copious, unfeasible, and unethical promises with the sole purpose of misleading the voter, it certainly needs to be checked. If any political party failed to fulfil its election promises made in earlier elections, though they won the election and were in power, it should be penalised. In every subsequent election, its manifesto shall be subjected to scrutiny by a competent authority such as the EC itself.

For example in Bhutan, political parties are required to submit a copy of election manifesto to the Election Commission before a primary round of Assembly Elections. Manifestos are issued to the public only with the approval of the Election Commission. Election Commission thoroughly vets the election manifestos and filters out issues with the 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 the UK, the Electoral authority issues guidelines for campaign materials which would apply to manifestos also. The launch of a party's manifesto is among the most critical moments in a British general election campaign. Manifestos establish the agenda for the government that the party will pursue in office. They have a quasi-constitutional authority in their system. The Salisbury Convention, which is a constitutional convention in the United Kingdom, conditions that the House of Lords will not oppose the second or third reading of any government legislation promised in its election manifesto. Such is the power of a manifesto.

In any case, very few people tend to read the political party manifesto and largely depend on sound-bite summaries that appear in the mass media. The election manifestos advocate a prosperous economy; a better deal for the young, the old, farmers, unemployed; a world-class educational system; affordable housing; higher wages for everybody; and equal opportunities for all. Very few political parties strictly abide by its manifesto.

(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to Chief Minister of Telangana. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao

Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao

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