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Putting the House in order

Putting the House in order
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The Supreme Court in last few days has passed certain orders on much-awaited election reforms and there is a feeling that these steps could completely change the Indian electoral scene in coming days. Following its verdict on disqualification of law makers after being convicted, the latest one is the Right to Reject. Now there will be 'Non Of The Above' (NOTA) option in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for voters to reject all the candidates in complete secrecy if they are not satisfied with the contestants being offered to them. It is pertinent to mention here that it is not Right to Recall, but Right to Reject that is the moot point.

There have been demands for both for long time and after the failure of the Executive, the Judiciary has given nod to one of the demands after it was approached on the issue through petition, which concentrated on Right to Reject and not Right to Recall. Had that issue been in the petition, who knows what would have happened, but it has certainly given the hope that some day this could also become reality. There have been arguments that Right to Reject would not do any good in reality as it will be only negative voting. They say that elections are conducted to fill a seat by electing a person by a positive voting in his favour and that election is only a means of choice or election between various candidates to fill a seat. They say that there shall be no motivation for the voters to travel to the polling booth and reject all the candidates, which would have the same effect of not going to the polling station at all.

But is it so? There are many countries in the world which are already using the Right to Reject in their electoral systems. They are  France, Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Ukraine, Chile, Bangladesh, State of Nevada, USA, Finland, Sweden, United States of America, Colombia and Spain. Experts say that the experience of these countries in the mechanism of negative voting has served a very fundamental and essential part of a vibrant democracy. The apex court in its judgement has taken everything in account and has given answers to each and every question on Right to Reject.

The Supreme Court said that democracy being the basic feature of our constitutional set up, there can be no two opinions that free and fair elections would alone guarantee the growth of a healthy democracy in the country. ‘The ‘Fair’ denotes equal opportunity to all people. Universal adult suffrage conferred on the citizens of India by the Constitution has made it possible for these millions of individual voters to go to the polls and participate in the governance of our country. For democracy to survive, it is essential that the best available men should be chosen as people’s representatives for proper governance of the country. This can be best achieved through men of high moral and ethical values, who win the elections on a positive vote. Thus in a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to push the ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) button, which will indeed compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate. This situation palpably tells us the dire need of negative voting,’ said the court.

It added, ‘Giving right to a voter not to vote for any candidate while protecting his right of secrecy is extremely important in a democracy. Such an option gives the voter the right to express his disapproval with the kind of candidates that are being put up by the political parties. When the political parties will realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them, gradually there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity,’ said the Supreme Court in its judgement allowing NOTA.

It further said, ‘The direction can also be supported by the fact that in the existing system, a dissatisfied voter ordinarily does not turn up for voting, which in turn provides a chance to unscrupulous elements to impersonate the dissatisfied voter and cast a vote, be it a negative one. Furthermore, a provision of negative voting would be in the interest of promoting democracy as it would send clear signals to political parties and their candidates as to what the electorate think about them.’ For law-makers, three buttons have been provided in Parliament – for those who are for it, for those who are against it and for those who want to abstain. Then why there should not be choice for the electors?

‘The voting machines in the Parliament have three buttons, namely, AYES, NOES, and ABSTAIN. Therefore, it can be seen that an option has been given to the members to press the ABSTAIN button. Similarly, the NOTA button being sought for by the petitioners is exactly similar to the ABSTAIN button since by pressing the NOTA button the voter is in effect saying that he is abstaining from voting since he does not find any of the candidates to be worthy of his vote,’ said the court.

Eventually, voters’ participation explains the strength of the democracy. Lesser voter participation is the rejection of commitment to democracy slowly but definitely whereas larger participation is better for the democracy. The voters’ participation in the election is indeed the participation in the democracy itself. Non-participation causes frustration and disinterest, which is not a healthy sign of a growing democracy like India and the apex court has rightly said, ‘If introducing a NOTA button can increase the participation of democracy then, in our cogent view, nothing should stop the same.’
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