Election Commission bans exit, opinion polls (Lead)

February 17th, 2009 - 10:01 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) The Election Commission Tuesday banned the publication or telecast of opinion or exit polls 48 hours before the last hour of polling in single-phase balloting.
In cases of multi-phase elections or elections announced simultaneously for different states, the poll panel banned the publication of exit and opinion polls in the period starting 48 hours before the close of first day of voting till the end of last day of balloting.

The commission ordered the implementation of its guidelines close on the heels of the Supreme Curt clarifying last month that it never prevented the poll panel from implementing its guideline on publication or telecast of exit and opinion polls.

“The Election Commission is free to frame its guidelines to regulate

publication of exit polls,” a bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam held Jan 19.

In its order banning the telecast or publication of exit or opinion polls, the commission said that they will not be disseminated or propagated in any form including through “any pamphlet, poster, placard, handbill or any other document”.

The poll panel had first banned publication or telecast of exit polls during the 1998 elections. But it withdrew its guidelines regulating the publication of exit polls in 1999 following an adverse remark from the apex court.

A lawsuit pending since 2004 has sought a ban on exit polls on the ground that they impair free and fair conduct of elections by swaying the voting patterns.

The apex court had made critical observations against the poll panel’s power to ban publication of exit polls saying it involved citizens’ right to speech and expression guaranteed by the constitution.

Last month, the Election Commission sought clarification on the apex court’s observation saying it was wrong to assume that regulation of opinion and exit polls would amount to interference with the right to information guaranteed by the constitution.

The Election Commission counsel said that banning publication of exit polls for a limited period after the announcement of election schedule and till the day of voting for the last phase of the poll will “only be a reasonable restriction in the larger interest of the democracy”.

Following this submission, the apex court clarified that it had never prevented the poll panel from implementing its guidelines to regulate the publication or telecast of exit and opinion polls.

The Rajya Sabha has already amended the existing electoral laws to provide for banning publication of exit polls but the bill is yet to be

ratified by the Lok Sabha.

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