EC revives call to ban opinion polls, seeks a change in law

FP
The Election Commission has sought amendment in the law to allow banning of opinion polls once the election process has started. Exit polls are already banned till after polling is complete after Parliament passed the Representation of the People (Second Amendment) Bill in 2009.

In a letter sent to the Union Law Ministry, the EC cited the continuing practice, especially in the electronic media, to conduct opinion polls during the electoral process, and said that the same must be banned. It has suggested a provision in the Representation of the People Act 1950 restricting publication/ broadcast of results of opinion polls for a specified period while the election process is on.

According to sources, the letter was sent after several TV channels and magazines carried opinion polls and predicted results of the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections. Almost all of these polls have predicted a third consecutive term for current Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

At the seven regional consultations on electoral reforms organised jointly by the Union Ministry of Law and Justice and the EC last year, leaders of almost all political parties, including the Congress and BJP, had favoured a complete ban on opinion polls. In fact, there was near consensus on the ban being implemented from the day of notification of elections itself.

Currently, under Section 126A of the Representation of the People Act, conducting exit polls and publishing their results in any manner during the period starting from 48 hours before the close of polls in an election is prohibited.

"A lot of confusion is caused by these so-called opinion and exit polls. We have also received complaints in the past about such polls being sponsored by one or the other political party. We hope the government will act on our suggestion," said a senior EC functionary.

In 1999, the EC had to withdraw the guidelines issued by it on January 20, 1998, regulating "publication and dissemination of results of opinion polls/exit polls" after a petition challenging the guidelines was filed in the Supreme Court.

In 2004, the EC first sought a complete ban on exit and opinion polls during elections, as part of 22 poll reforms recommended by it to the Union government.

However, the NDA government's plan to take the ordinance route to ban exit and opinion polls as sought by the EC had come a cropper after then Attorney General Soli Sorabjee objected to it. In his legal opinion, Sorabjee told the government that the ordinance would be violative of the right to freedom of speech and expression, but said that reasonable restrictions could be imposed.

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