R I M E C O N C E R N
Voter gets to show his displeasure
The Supreme Court’s direction to the Election Commission to allow a voter to reject all candidates by introducing the ‘None of the Above’ button on the EVM has come as a victory for the electorate. A landmark initiative to cleanse the electoral system, the provision, however, has its grey areas. Political leaders debate.
Election Commission of India, on October 4, sprang a pleasant surprise on the electorate while announcing the schedule for the Assembly elections in five states. Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath stated that the commission would provide ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option in electronic voting machines (EVMs) and ballot papers for the 11 crore voters expected to cast their ballot in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram.
The Election Commission (EC) took the landmark decision following a Supreme Court ruling on September 27, in which it was directed to give voters the right to reject all contesting candidates if they found none of them ‘worthy’ of their vote.
When political parties realise “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 parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity,” a three-member Bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said in the 51-page verdict.
The judgment was delivered on a PIL by People’s Union for Civil Liberties and another, seeking NOTA button, primarily to protect the identity of those who wanted to abstain from voting.
Why it was needed
Earlier in the ballot system, such voters could go to the polling booth and drop the ballot in the box without marking their choice and no one would know that they had, in fact, abstained. This was not possible in the present system of voting through EVMs which violated their right to secrecy, besides going against the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 and personal liberty under Article 21. Significantly, the Central government had opposed the NOTA option during the arguments while the EC had supported it.
While the NOTA provision is already in use in countries like France, Brazil, Chile, Belgium and Bangladesh, the largest democracy in the world has only now woken up to its need. The EC of Pakistan too had decided to introduce the NOTA option for the 2013 general election in Pakistan, but later dropped the proposal in view of paucity of time.
The question that comes to one’s mind is: what will be the outcome of an election if NOTA votes are more than the votes garnered by candidates? There is no confusion about it: the candidate who gets the maximum valid votes will be declared elected.
It is a step in the right direction to clean up the electoral system that uses money and muscle power. It is time for the parties to initiate reforms to strengthen the democracy process.
— Ashok Tuteja
I believe that nobody in Punjab will opt for NOTA. In fact, this debate regarding disllusionment with politics is nothing more than drawing room discussion. In a politically charged state like Punjab, almost everybody has his political alignment, which will render NOTA ineffective. Moreover, in the present times, in order to garner maximum votes, all political parties field the best possible candidates, who are well educated and have a mass appeal.
Sukhbir Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal president
Right to recall makes more sense
The thought is noble, but it is not a practical move as at the end of the day, you need a government to run a state or a country. Our democracy is not mature enough to provide the voters with such an option. It may be misused in the times of EVMs that can be tampered with. It is a double-edged sword. The better option would be the right to recall, in which the electorate should have the power to recall any MP or MLA if they find him/her involved in a corruption or criminal case, or not performing up to their expectations. Under this option, a public representative can be recalled if a majority of voters are in its favour.
Partap Singh Bajwa, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief
Will awaken parties
The judiciary has taken the right decision, which was the need of the hour. In wake of the criminalisation of politics, NOTA will encourage the voters to turn up at the polling booth to reject undeserving candidates. This would awaken political parties from deep slumber to the fact that the people of the country are fed up with criminal elements occupying the chair of public representatives. The parties would be compelled to field candidates with a clean image. This initiative will go a long way in cleansing the political setup. I do not see any practical problem in the implementation of NOTA.
Avtar Singh Karimpuri, Rajya Sabha MP and ex-president, Punjab BSP
Winner should secure at least 50 pc votes
The option is a painkiller for the dying democratic system. We need holistic treatment in the form of electoral reforms, where the use of muscle power, money and liquor does not enable one to win polls. We need more clarity. What happens if NOTA gets more votes than the leading candidate? It can lead to an absurd situation, like in Bihar, when in an Assembly seat few years ago, all candidates lost security deposit. No one could secure more than 6 per cent votes. Yet, the one who got the most votes became the MLA. We should have a ‘dislike’ button and a candidate should be declared elected taking into account the voters who dislike him. A winning candidate should secure at least 50 per cent votes. Voting should be made mandatory. Places like Chandigarh have low polling percentage.
Hardev Arshi, former MLA, CPI
Safeguards must be in place
I support the NOTA option as it would provide the voters with an opportunity to reject candidates. Its main advantage would be that in future, parties will concentrate on integrity, honesty and crime-free record while selecting candidates. However, a group of persons with vested interests may exploit the sentiments of the people who are already frustrated due to the double standard of some parties.
In the wake of NOTA, there is a need for safeguards in the People’s Representation Act to avoid hindrance in the election process.
Dr Joginder Dayal, CPI national executive member
Find ways to increase voter turnout
India’s demographic profile is so young that most voters will not have any memories of the days when we would cast our votes through ballot paper. Some dejected voters would often scribble on the ballot “sab chor hain”. The right to reject is not new per se. Any hope that it will pressure parties to field candidates with clean credentials is, however, misplaced as even if the majority of people opt for NOTA (itself a low probability), the candidate with maximum votes of the remaining ‘valid’ votes shall be declared a winner. It has been heartening to see an increase in voter turnout in the last few elections. The EC must find ways to increase this percentage — perhaps by allowing people to cast electronic votes from any part of the world, or making voting compulsory. NOTA will stop bogus voting. But a clean polity can only be initiated by the legislature, which has to be exhorted by the civil society. If people want to be governed by wise people, they need to ensure more participation in the voting process.
Manpreet Singh Badal,
president of People’s Party of Punjab
Will spell out what people want
The option will go a long way in strengthening democracy since it will clearly pronounce the kind of leader the electorate is looking for. What the voter wants has been every party’s dilemma. The public will vote since this option will allow them to register their protest if none of the candidates are suitable. It should be dove-tailed with the right to recall. A voter can get emotional and make the mistake of casting his/her vote in favour of a particular candidate, but with the right to recall, that can be undone if an elected representative fails to deliver. This will leave little scope for an elected candidate to make excuses at the end of his/her term.
Abhay Singh Chautala,
senior INLD leader
Right to recall, not reject, more important
It makes no sense. It neither empowers the voter nor strengthens democracy. There is no logic in voters queuing up, spending time to cast their vote in favour of NOTA, and going away. They should exercise their franchise in favour of a candidate. Giving the electorate the right to recall is far more beneficial. At present, once a candidate is elected, he/she gets the right to complete the full term, irrespective of the performance. Giving the voters the right to recall a non-performer will bring in accountability as an elected representative will know that any laxity could translate into losing the seat. NOTA will not achieve what it has been conceived to do.
Phool Chand Mullana,
Haryana Congress chief
Mockery of electoral process
The Constitution provides for the election of representatives to Parliament and state Assemblies. It does not provide for the rejection of candidates by the electorate. The Supreme Court directive to the Election Commission for making NOTA option available to the electorate would virtually make a mockery of the electoral process. In a diverse country like India this system could prove to be complicated. Already there is a question mark over the functioning of electronic voting machines and the new system could leave scope for their manipulation. It runs counter to the free and fair election process.
Ram Bilas Sharma,
Haryana BJP president
Could be tricky in insurgency-infested areas
A welcome move, the provision has existed since the Congress amended the election rules. It was earlier available as a form at the voting booth, now it will be a button on the EVM. With the power to influence results, it will encourage parties to introspect on candidates, making merit the sole criterion of selection. However, it will require caution in insurgency-infested pockets where coercive measures are adopted by unlawful organisations to reject democratic institutions. A consensus by all parties is required to consider a hypothetical situation where NOTA polls more votes than the candidate getting the next highest votes.
Randeep Singh Surjewala,
Haryana Public Works Minister
Should be given a fair
The SC in its wisdom allowed the NOTA option. One can’t say if it will work, but we should give it a fair trial. There has been much debate over the need to cleanse politics and the core issue that emerged was how to block tainted leaders from entering Parliament or legislatures. There was a demand that they should not be allowed to contest elections, or to be disqualified, but the right to reject was never at the centre of the discussion. Any step that strengthens the democratic process is good. But what happens when a large number of voters exercise this option? It will be known only when it happens.
Virbhadra Singh, Chief Minister
Could hit clean candidates too
It is a good initiative, but will not be of much help. There is no clarity on what happens if a majority of voters exercise this option. It should be incorporated by amending election laws after going through its implications. Alternatively, the list system of Germany, under which the electorate votes for a list of candidates, should be considered. The provision could mar the prospects of candidates with a clean image. If campaign against a tainted candidate gains momentum, all other candidates will be affected. Voting would have to be made mandatory to ensure 100 per cent polling.
Prem Kumar Dhumal, Leader of Opposition
More needs to be done
The BJP has been in favour of the right to reject and NOTA is just the beginning. At present, there is no way to gauge its impact on the outcome of the electoral contest as it is only an option for those who do not want to vote for any candidate. A lot more is required to be done to make it meaningful. There are no rules as yet to see what happens to the outcome of the election if a large percentage of voters go for it. A legal framework needs to be provided so that people are aware how the election result will be influenced if they exercise this option.
Shanta Kumar, former Union Minister
Proper legal framework must
It is a welcome initiative, but it only touches the fringe of the larger issue of electoral reforms. Without a solid legal framework, no such provision can be a deterrent for keeping unwanted candidates at bay. The CPM has been asking for the right to recall to keep elected representatives on their toes. Further, the focus should be shifted from candidates to parties. Recognised parties and groups are provided proportional representation on the basis of the percentage of vote secured. Several reforms are needed to revamp the electoral system to help reduce the growing influence of money and muscle power.
member State Secretariat, CPM
It is a dicey provision, but the political class in the hill state need not worry as the situation is not that bad. Criminalisation of politics and tainted leaders are not a major issue here and the chances of many people exercising this option are bleak. However, there are states where this could have a major impact. If a good percentage of voters, say 25 per cent, exercise this option, and still a candidate with a modest 27 per cent votes wins, it will take away from the victory. It will be a good move if it yields the desired result and helps in preventing tainted leaders from entering the Vidhan Sabha.
state Irrigation and Public Health Minister
Re-election may not be viable
It has been brought in without analysing its implications. It would turn out to be a mere formality if it is not well defined and incorporated by amending election laws. The law must lay down whether or not the election would be annulled if the largest percentage of voters opts for NOTA. If all candidates are rejected, there has to be a re-election, which might not be feasible. If the election is not annulled, NOTA will be a futile exercise. As politicians these days do not enjoy a great degree of credibility, the presence of one tainted candidate and NOTA hype during campaigning, could lead to the rejection
of all others.
KC Sharma, former state Election Commissioner
Only want solution to K-issue
We seek a permanent solution to the Kashmir dispute. The electoral system introduced in the Valley has not been able to provide any solution. Elections are not a problem, whether you hold them or not. We want a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue. Elections may mean anything to anyone, but what matters the most to us is a permanent solution to the issue.
Prof Abdul Gani Bhat, Hurriyat leader (moderate faction)
Dissatisfied voters will have a say
Any move that brings more people out to vote is welcome. But technically, even if 100 per cent votes are cast and 90 per cent votes are NOTA, the candidate with the first highest, even if it means as less as possible, will be elected. It will not help change candidates. It is premature to comment on how it will unfold. It is still to be decided in J&K. It has to be either taken to the Cabinet or there will be an amendment to have it in the state Assembly elections.
Tanvir Sadiq, political adviser to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah
Milestone in political history
It would clean politics. Historical and unprecedented, this move would put pressure on all parties to field untainted candidates.
There was a need for such a decision. The option will be a milestone in the political history of the country. The BJP is committed to the purification of politics and has already taken a number of measures in this direction.
Dr Nirmal Singh, BJP national executive member
Won’t change the result
It will not serve any purpose until it is made result oriented. Even if the number of NOTA votes is more, it will not impact the results. But in future, parties will be cautious while selecting their candidates. Why will people go to polling stations and not vote for any candidate? It is only possible where people feel candidates are involved in the highest level of corruption or crime. It is not going to change the results. Many elections have happened in the state despite boycott calls.
Mehbooba Mufti, Peoples Democratic Party president
Binding, but undemocratic
Though the verdict is honoured by every citizen of the country and is binding, it will have a negative impact on the democratic system. It will give an opportunity to the cynical elements to hijack the democratic process. Instead of rejecting the available candidates, there should be a comparative analysis of all candidates in the fray.
Prof Saifuddin Soz, J&K Pradesh Congress Committee president
Will benefit poll process in Valley
It is a constructive step towards rendering the poll process more robust. It instils greater transparency and encourages voter participation, but it should be open to refinement. This is more important in regions such as Kashmir which witness poll boycott. A panacea could be the establishment of a vote baseline representing a certain percentage of the total vote-count necessary to be achieved by the highest vote gainer to be the winner.
Sajad Lone, chairman of J&K Peoples Conference
Will keep the corrupt out
It is a good initiative and a healthy step to strengthen democracy. It is in favour of the common man. The move would encourage people to participate overwhelmingly in the electoral exercise and reject candidates. It would go a long way in eliminating the corrupt and those with dubious credentials from the election process. It would bring more and more people with good image at the helm of affairs, both in Parliament and state Assemblies. This would foster purity and vibrancy in the elections.
Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi
Efforts must be made to get electors to exercise their choice in favour of a candidate, and not persuade them directly or indirectly not to exercise that choice. NOTA is an experiment and while there is no harm in trying it out, the exercise of this option also means that you are not accepting any candidate that emerges either from a party or the civil society. We have to see if a person would be so convinced to reject a candidate as to stand in a queue for hours and then exercise this option. In other democracies, the right to vote is being made compulsory while we are toying with the opposite idea.
Kapil Sibal, Minister of Law, IT and Communications
Wider consultations must
The court has given an order, but the EC must determine the modalities by consulting all parties. While giving space to all those who can reject, one also needs to understand that there has to be stability in the process of elections. These issues require wider consultations. The EC must convene a meeting with the stakeholders to discuss the judgment along with laws and rules in countries where such provisions exist in some form or the other.
Ravi Shanker Prasad,
Deputy Leader of the Oppn, Rajya Sabha
A step forward, but not enough
The intervention by the court is an indicator of the growing urge in the public to clean up the political setup. That the reforms have not been initiated by the executive, but the court and the Election Commission, needs to be read into and considered. There is a need to look at the present democratic process vis-a-vis the Westminster form of government which recognises numbers more than merit. The present system compels parties to select candidates first on the basis of caste, then class, then geographical location and many a time, also money and muscle power. If the person who gets chosen is also meritorious, it is only incidental. It is a step forward, but more measures are needed. It would barely cater to the deep-rooted malaise. We should device a mechanism where we can segregate elected representatives from the executive.
Rajiv Pratap Rudy, BJP general secretary and ex-Civil Aviation Minister
Vital for electoral reforms
This option is an important step towards electoral reforms. The next fight is to ensure that whenever NOTA gets a majority of votes in a constituency, the election is called again. During the Jan Lokpal movement, as well as now in the form of a political party, we have always been in support of electoral reforms like the right to reject and right to recall. Our party will support the Election Commission in any endeavour aimed at promoting transparency and streamlining the electoral system. Introduction of the right to reject button in EVMs would ensure cancellation of the election if no candidate gets majority votes. It would also deter parties from fielding rejected candidates again.
Arvind Kejriwal, National Convener, Aam Aadmi Party
Keep up the momentum
The option is healthy for our democracy in view of the increasing criminalisation of politics and abuse of money power. The government and Parliament must take forward the process of reforms. If they do not, the current momentum will peter out. Though the court has stopped short of creating the right to reject in EVMs, it has paved the way for it. No modification would be required in the EVMs to create this option. The provision is easy to implement. It will be like one more candidate, represented by the last button. There are no financial implications.
SY Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner
The option of rejecting all candidates exists in our system. It is irrelevant. Those who reject all candidates do not vote. Having the NOTA button means nothing. Voting is a democratic choice. If a large number of people feel that certain candidates do not deserve their vote, they abstain from voting. During the 1992 Assembly elections in Punjab, the voting was abysmally poor as the people had rejected all candidates. That was the message. But those who voted elected a government.
Dr Manohar Singh Gill,
former Chief Election Commissioner