Ordinary people do not get level-playing field in polls: CEC

New Delhi: The prevalence of money and muscle power in elections has created a situation where ordinary people do not get a level-playing field, Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said on Wednesday.

Asked at an anti-corruption summit here if any common man can enter politics and expect a level-playing field in polls, he said, "At the present moment, the answer is no."

"If you have money in lakhs and crores you have a chance. Or if you are a 'dada' (strongman), you have a chance. People talk against limiting poll expense. But otherwise no ordinary person gets a chance. If one party puts up a dada, the other will field a bigger dada, so it is a level-playing field only for those guys," he said evoking laughter among the audience.

He said though some propose state funding, it will only help established political parties. "Moreover, state funding will not guarantee a stop in use of black money or in distribution of sarees or dhotis, liquor parties or fake marriage parties during election time."

The CEC said after the assembly elections, the commission will push for the proposal to have political parties accept donations and spend only through cheques. "The audited accounts should be in public domain so that people can know which business houses are donating to a party or if they are getting any concessions later," he said.

Quraishi said there is considerable anger among people against corruption but cautioned that they should not "paint all politicians black".

"Without them there would be no democracy. We should not forget that there is no law for model code of conduct for elections. Politicians created it and are complying with it."

He said there is need for a "juristic formulation" for debarring people with criminal antecedents from polls.

"Parties say that in politics, often false cases are filed. And everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Fair enough. But we should consider that among four lakh people in jails, 2.68 lakh are undertrials. The same thing applies to them too. We need proper formulation on debarring criminals."

He said often election petitions take a long time to be decided in courts though there is a time-frame under law.

While asking people in urban areas to come out in larger numbers to vote, he said citizen's cooperation is key to tackle electoral corruption, which is the "mother of all corruption". He said in Tamil Nadu, common people approached EC with complaints on freebies and use of money, effectively helping the commission to curb those.

M G Devasahayam, convenor of the recently launched Forum for Electoral Integrity, said political parties had been flaying the EC for the stringent steps in assembly elections in TN but they should actually support its endeavour.

Ensuring internal democracy in parties and introducing right to recall and negative vote are among other suggestions made by speakers at the summit.