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Explained: Is EC empowered to delay Bihar elections due to Covid-19?

16th July, 2020 Editorial


  • Demand of political parties to postpone the assembly election in Bihar due to rise of Corona.

Mandate of Election Commission to Postpone elections:

  • Mandated under law to hold elections at any time within six months before the five-year term of the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly expires.
  • In the case of early dissolution, EC has to ensure, as far as possible, a new Lok Sabha or Assembly is in place within six months of the dissolution.
  • However, in some exceptional cases, the process can be postponed or even scrapped after its announcement under extraordinary circumstances.

Section 123:

  • Under Section 153 of the Representation of the People Act, the poll panel can “extend the time” for completing an election, but such extension should not go beyond the date of the normal dissolution of the Lok Sabha or the Assembly.
  • Powers under Section 153 can be exercised only after an election schedule has been notified.

Elections for the Legislative council:

  • Article 171(3)(b)&(c) : Election commission has postponed election for the legislative council elections of Graduates and Teachers’ Constituency.
  • The by-elections for a couple of Assembly seats and MLC elections can be postponed beyond six months, as they don’t risk dissolution of the concerned legislature

Emergency Provisions:

  • Through declaration of the emergency or president rule, ECI can postpone the House/assembly elections by a year the ECI under Article 83 and Article 171 respectively.
  • Emergency under Article 352 can be imposed for security threat only.
  • President rule under Article 356 can be imposed only for the breakdown of constitutional machinery as stated by Supreme Court in S. R. Bommai case.

Reasons for Postponement:

  • Elections from Sri Lanka to USA have been postponed due to fear of Corona virus.
  • Not much will be lost if elections in the Bihar is postponed.
  • Election in itself can become a super spreader.
  • There is difficulty in organising the voting amid restrictions under place.
  • Covid restriction also prohibits large scale gathering which will be violated by election process.
  • Supporters cite the example of South Korea for conducting the elections, but , if Bihar can suppress the virus as South Korea, then only the elections must take place.
  • Organising the election would let the complete shift of bureaucracy attention from managing the Corona crisis.
  • Challenges for the Political parties: They will go digital but it will not be enough to understand the voter’s expectations.
  • Challenges for the voters: How will the voter who is not digitally connected participate in different political parties campaign.
  • Unfair to independent and small parties as they will not be able to undertake such large expenditure.

Past Instances of Postpone:

  • Postponed in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab due to rise of militancy.
  • Already postponed the Assembly by-elections in Assam, Kerala, UP, Nagaland, MP and Jharkhand due to Corona crisis.

Not postponing the elections:

  • The Pandemic will continue for more than 1 year, for, how long ECI can postpone the elections.
  • There is lack of legal mandate to postpone the elections for the assembly.
  • According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, at least 33 countries have conducted the elections.
  • ECI can undertake the learning from international experiences mainly the South Korea and Taiwan elections and incorporate it into standard operating procedure.
  • Recently, ECI has conducted the polls for Rajya Sabha with new standard operating procedure prepared with the help of health officials.

ECI Preparation in Rajya Sabha elections:

  • Allowed one Corona virus infected MLA to vote with PPE.
  • Made masks and gloves compulsory.
  • A separate route, elevators and designated waiting rooms were planned for MLAs with abnormal body temperature during thermal scan.

Election Commission statement:

  • No Plans to postpone the elections.
  • Will Increase the number of booths for maintaining the social distance
  • Allow postal voting for people above age 60.
  • Can cap the number on each booth at 800.

Way Forward:

  • Scattering of the voters day
  • Scattering of the voting timing.
  • Maintain 1-metre distance between the Voters.
  • Allow postal voting for people with Co morbidities.


The pandemic has indeed turned into a test for the ECI to stand up to its motto of ‘No Voter Left Behind’. It will set another milestone in its 70 years of path-breaking journey.


Reference: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-is-ec-empowered-to-delay-bihar-elections-due-to-covid-19-6501317/