With 2019 Lok Sabha Elections just a few days away, the Election Commission (EC) on Saturday fixed a timeline for the release of manifestos by all the national and regional political parties in India. In order to maintain the sanctity of Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951, the manifestos for both single and multiphase elections, from this year onwards, cannot be released in the last 48 hours before polling in all phases. Section 126 of the RP Act embodies "election silence", which prohibits any form of the election campaign in the last 48 hours leading up to voting.
"Manifestos for both single and multiphase elections shall not be released during the prohibitory period, as prescribed under Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951," the Election Commission of India said in a statement.
The provision will, henceforth, be applicable and implemented as a part of the Model Code of Conduct for all future elections, it added.
Election Commission of India: The provision will, henceforth, be applicable and implemented as a part of the Model Code of Conduct for all future elections. #LokSabhaElections2019 https://t.co/hcaZcWOIqt— ANI (@ANI) March 16, 2019
Earlier, there was no stipulation on the timing of manifesto launch for political parties. The reason behind restraining parties from releasing manifesto, sources said, is lack of consensus within the political parties on the issue.
In early 2019, the commission reached out to all national and regional parties and sought their views on the proposal to revise the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), ensuring that manifestos are released at least 72 hours before voting ends in the first phase of elections. While several parties were silent on the issue, the Congress had opposed the proposal.
The proposed amendment – a new item to be inserted under Part VIII of MCC – reads, "If a party or candidate intends to release election manifesto in connection with any election, the same should be released latest by 72 hours prior to the hour fixed for conclusion of the poll for the election. In case of the multi-phase election, the release should be latest by 72 hours prior to the hour fixed for conclusion of the poll for the first phase. The manifesto should not be released after this cut-off time".
In a related note, the BJP had in 2014 released its Lok Sabha manifesto on the day of voting in the first phase. Although the Congress had complained to the EC, stating this would influence voters, the commission was unable to act since the MCC was silent on the timing of the manifesto's release.
Talking about the seven-phase 2019 Lok Sabha elections, parties cannot release manifesto in the last 48 hours before each phase on April 11, 18, 23, 29, May 6, 12 and May 19.