A big blow for the political parties amid the upcoming election in 5 states. As Covid-19 cases continue to surge across the country, the Election Commission extended its ban on political rallies, roadshows, and street corner meetings till January 22. However, it relaxed rules for indoor meetings. The election watchdog allowed indoor meetings of the maximum of 300 people or 50% capacity of the meeting hall or limits prescribed by the state disaster management authorities. Political parties shall ensure compliance with Covid’s appropriate behavior and guidelines. The parties shall also provide the Model Code of Conduct during the activities connected with elections.
The Election Commission said new instructions on campaigning would be issued after a review once the extended ban ends. The decision was taken after the commission held separate virtual meetings with the health ministry, chief secretaries, and Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh. They also had discussions with the chief electoral officers of the five poll-bound states. The elections for five assemblies will be held in seven phases from February 10. The results will be declared on March 10, and the commission was announced last week. It earlier placed restrictions on meetings till January 15.
Political parties will have to focus on virtual rallies rather than large in-person gatherings.
During the meetings, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and election commissioners Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey reviewed the present status. They projected trends of the Covid-19 pandemic, with particular focus on the five poll-going states. Vaccination status and action plan for expeditiously completing vaccination for 1st, 2nd, and booster dose for eligible persons amongst frontline workers and polling personnel were also reviewed. Political parties will have to focus on virtual rallies rather than large in-person gatherings. Other containment measures include curbs on the number of vehicles accompanying a candidate for the nomination submission, which will be restricted to two instead of five. The chambers of returning officers should have sufficient space to perform the functions of nomination, scrutiny, and symbol allocation following social distancing norms.
The EC has allowed only 1,250 voters in each polling station instead of 1,500, and the number was capped at 1,000 for the previous two rounds of state elections. There will be mandatory sanitization of polling stations and thermal checking off all those casting their vote. The commission is also running a pilot project to live-track overcrowding of voters at various poll booths to ensure safety norms are followed. Covid patients and those who are quarantined will be allowed to cast their vote in the last hour of polling under the supervision of health authorities, the commission said. Sector magistrates will coordinate this in their allocated polling stations and record such electors.