The State Election Commission set the ball rolling and announced elections to municipalities and the Corporation of the city of Panaji (CCP) on March 20 and counting two days later. Ironically, what unfolded on Tuesday was a dirty dance of democracy and a mockery of judicial processes.
The SEC, mindful of the fact that the High Court is hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the reservations of municipalities, went ahead and announced elections without any second thoughts on the outcomes in court on Tuesday. It's baffling to understand this undue haste on the eve of a crucial court hearing which has a direct bearing on the electoral process. It only meant that the SEC was not bothered about the court’s observations and its ruling. Back in court, the State government was arguing that the reservation policy adopted was in line with the law in force and not arbitrary. If we may recall there were nine petitions before the court challenging the reservation process, add to the opposition from within the government with senior cabinet ministers like Mauvin Godinho slamming the process.
While the SEC went about its job of blowing the election bugle, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant soon followed it up flagging off his campaign in complete violation of the election code. Sawant extended the Swayampurna Goa initiative for municipalities and vouched fund allocation for developmental projects, while the SEC watched like a silent spectator.
The hurry with which Sawant has gone about his outreach coupled with the timing of SEC’s poll announcement raises reasonable doubts of the independent authority of the election body and the fairness which would be on offer in this high-stakes contest. Sawant should have been censured for his announcement and asked to roll it back immediately, but nothing of that sort happened. The election body has set a bad precedent here by meekly surrendering to the powers that be, and giving enough indications on whom it is batting for.
The BJP may not be contesting this election on party lines because of its internal dissension, but it is leaving no stone unturned to bulldoze its way. The series of job openings created on the eve of elections and the sops announced to civic bodies are testimony to the fact that they will play hardball and use government machinery to their advantage.
This is where the role of the SEC comes into focus. The events that unfolded on Tuesday, where everything was overlooked, including the judicial process, make the actions suspicious and questionable.
The SEC is believed to be a constitutional body independent of executive control and interference, and it is bound by its supreme duty to provide a level playing field to all candidates and parties in the frame, without any biases to the ruling dispensation. The way the SEC has begun the process leaves a lot to doubt and we hope better sense prevails as the campaign trail heats up.