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Electoral Promises: Enforceability and Practicability

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Shashidhar Vuppala

Election manifesto is a statement by a political party, explaining what it will do if they win the elections. Through election manifesto the voters come to know about the policies of the political party they are going to vote for. They can easily think that which party will prove the best for them; they can decide that with whose policies they want to go therefore an election manifesto is very important.
An election manifesto is essentially a list of policies that a political party says it will enact if it is voted into office at any election. Before an election, each party will produce an official manifesto which will form the basis of its campaign. Manifestos serve a very important function, because they are the main way of telling voters why they should give their vote to a particular political party. This means they are usually written in a persuasive style which attempts to make readers believe that the policies they contain will be in their best interests.
A manifesto can be just a simple list of policy ideas, although these days political manifestos tend to be lengthy documents which explain the party’s policies on a wide range of issues in great detail. The key feature of a political manifesto is that it will usually say what the party’s policies are, as well as giving some kind of explanation as to what each policy is trying to achieve and why that would be a good thing, in order to persuade the voter to support it. Manifestos usually cover a wide range of political issues, including the economy, health, education, welfare, jobs, housing, defense, the environment and foreign policy.
Branding is an extremely important feature of modern political manifestos. This usually begins with a title which tries to make the party sound appealing to voters, and often contains some kind of reference to the core theme of the party’s election campaign. In order for a manifesto to be taken seriously, the policies which it contains cannot be impractical or unpopular, or it would fail in its purpose to help the party to attract support.
As manifestos are designed to try to persuade the reader to vote for a particular party, they tend to repeat certain key ideas and phrases which they want the voters to associate with their campaign. Clearly, the parties decided to emphasize different issues in their manifestos.
Electoral manifestos play a crucial role in visions of party Democracy and Political Science analysis of Party Competition . While research has focused on the contents of manifestos, we know much less about how parties produce manifestos and the roles they take in campaigns. This paper identifies three campaign-related functions of manifestos: they provide a compendium of valid party positions, streamline the campaign, and are used as campaign material. Based on the characteristics of the candidates, the parties and the campaign, the paper then derives expectations of how party candidates may differ in attributing importance to their party’s manifesto.
In countries like India, nobody really reads manifestos. The manifesto rarely impresses voters or helps parties swing voters it has transformed into an intellectual and ideological exercise at best. Ideally, an election manifesto would be an important part of the political process, but it has rarely played a part in Post-Independence India’s political history aside from the slogan “Garibi Hatao”, few remember the contents of the Congress’s 1971 manifesto.
An election manifesto serves several purposes in a modern day democracy like India. It helps highlight the potential of a party’s stint in government to undecided voters, while spelling out the consensus agenda agreed to by the party’s diversity of ideological and regional special groups.
The challenge, however, is when manifesto promises go unfulfilled; a case of Pinocchio writ large. Part of this due to the very nature of manifestos Lord Denning, a peer in the House of Lords, observed that the manifesto of any political party cannot be taken as a gospel or a signed and agreed bond. As the erstwhile Chief Justice of India has noted, “manifestos have become a mere piece of paper” and political parties need to be held accountable for them. A number of parties promised to introduce the Women Reservation Bill in 2004, repeating the same promise in 2009 and 2014, while making no significant efforts when in power or in Opposition to support its passage.
Judicial options for ensuring compliance are limited a PIL filed by advocate Mithilesh Kumar Pandey was rejected by the Supreme Court bench which said that it is not the court’s job to consider a matter of unfulfilled promises. The model code of conduct drafted by the Election Commission of India (ECI) for the 2014 general elections had guidelines that prohibited parties from making promises in their manifestoes that would exert an undue influence on voters. However, the very fact that the code is not enforceable by law leads to such guidelines being followed only in abeyance. ECI has sought to hold the line it censured the AIADMK in August 2016 for not being able to give a rationale and means to meet the financial requirements for the poll promises provided in its manifesto in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections that year. But this approach has had limited dividends.
It is important for political parties to be made accountable for their promises by ensuring a legal responsibility for their fulfillment. The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in 2013, recommended that the model code should be made legally binding and made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 such a reform would add teeth to ECI’s powers, enabling it to deter political parties from making empty promises in manifestos. There must be a cost to unfulfilled manifesto promises, aside from a chance of being voted out of power.
India’s democracy has two paths one leads it to a future where every political party offers variations on the same set of promises, transforming elections into investment decision for rich individuals, where one’s purchasing power plays its part; another has political parties kept in check from making outlandish promises by civil society, regulatory watchdogs and other political parties themselves.
If democracy is a social contract between those elected and ordinary citizens, then manifestos should be considered as a legal contract enshrining a country’s purported development agenda. For the health of India’s democracy, ensuring accountability for manifestos remains a key reform to be pushed.
However, it is important to note that manifesto promises are not binding; political parties do not actually have to do any of the things they said they would in their manifesto if they succeed in getting elected, although they have to be careful, because failing to implement certain policies can leave voters feeling betrayed, leading to a negative backlash.
In the current day scenario manifestos are the huge promises & weapons for political parties to garner votes. Unfortunately they are not legally binding. Political Parties have no legal obligation to fulfill their promises they make in any manifesto they submit to the public to sway them to vote for them.
There is a serious need for legislation to ensure manifestos in law and make them legally binding. This would prevent Political Parties lying to us just to get into a position of power. If they are unable to fulfill the majority of their Manifesto promises then a referendum should be held to allow a vote of no-confidence. We have seen over the years that Political Parties make promises that they will do something that will stimulate the economy or improve people’s lives of the people, however frequently it goes the opposite way.
This is apparent in the way that Public Services are being sold off to Private Companies which have provided a poor quality service, or have been found to be fraudulent. Political Parties should be required to submit a legally binding manifesto and if they can’t carry the majority of it out then they should be subject to recall and face the scrutiny of having to justify why they submitted a pledge on their manifesto and not stick to it. We can’t keep allowing politicians to lie to us or give us some spin on why they said going to do something and then they go back on their promises. This is not true democracy. We vote them in because of their manifesto promises and because we believe they will carry it through to the best of their ability.
Quote: “If democracy is a social contract between those elected and ordinary citizens, then manifestos should be considered as a legal contract enshrining a country’s purported development agenda”.
(The author is a social thinker, political analyst and activist, besides being an IT Professional)

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