Start but a long way ahead
(Former Director, ICSSR)
To prevent tainted politicians from being elected to legislative bodies and to bring purity in elections, the Supreme Court recently directed the Election Commission to permit voters the right to reject all candidates while casting their vote. Now a button “None of the Above” (NOTA) would be added in electronic voting machines (EVM) below the list of candidates in the fray for voters to express their disapproval.
Coming on the heels of the Court’s order disqualifying convicted MPs and MLAs and the Union Government’s super-
NOTA voting will give voters the right to reject all candidates contesting in a constituency, enable them to register their disapproval of “unworthy candidates patronized by Parties” and compel Parties to field only candidates with high moral and ethical principles known for their integrity, discarding those with doubtful credentials and unpopular image.
Observed, the judges, “The NOTA option would accelerate effective political participation in the present state of the democratic system” and voters would “in fact be empowered”. It facilitates expression of rejection which is presently articulated by abstaining from voting and might increase voter turn-
The assumption is that voters want candidates who uphold high moral values and given a chance, would reject suspects. However, in reality, even goondas and criminals manage to enter the Central and State legislative bodies thanks to their followers and vote-
Undeniably, NOTA might be a potent weapon to stop goons but it alone is insufficient. We need comprehensive electoral reforms which are long overdue as criminalization of politics has taken deep roots and spreading beyond political institutions and pervading society.
Indeed, one cannot help be pessimistic in an atmosphere charged with all-
Negative voting or rejection of all candidates is prevalent in 13 countries including Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Finland, Greece, Spain, Sweden, Russia etc. Under the guise of “against all”, “scratch” vote or NOTA.
Pertinently, the right to reject all candidates is not a new idea. In 2004 the then Chief Election Commissioner recommended the provision for negative/neutral voting in voting machine to the Government. Again, in 2009 the EC told the Supreme Court that it wished to offer the NOTA option to voters. But it came to naught.
True, the existing Rule 49-
This rule helps reduce non-
Special mention must be made of Russia where NOTA was once very popular. In the 1991 elections, NOTA led to large number of re-
But in 2006 it was abolished as it led to many re-
In the US, Nevada State adopted NOTA in 1978 as a standard item in the ballot paper. But attempts to introduce it failed in California. In Poland, NOTA equivalent or “against voting” was exercised vigorously and led to the defeat of leading Communists in 1989. Bangladesh adopted it in 2008. In Pakistan, there was some support for this provision but its Election Commission was opposed.
Besides, there are other forms of expressing disapproval of all candidates. One can boycott elections, recall, Gandhi’s Non-
For anarchists, non-
In South Africa, anti-
On the whole, experience in various countries does not point to any drastic cleansing of politics accomplished through the NOTA option. On the other hand, there is a probability that it would be used as a synonym for poll boycott. Given NOTA’s publicity to promote enthusiasm among voters to exercise this option and see the fun.
Clearly, we need the right to reject all candidates in the same way as we need the right to choose our candidates. But, our problems are not just limited to the kind of candidates contesting elections. NOTA, by itself, will not work miracles. We have to introduce comprehensive electoral reforms encompassing party funding, inner party democracy including election to party offices, electioneering including framing of manifestos, poll promises and campaigning.
India’s priority should be to fight political corruption corroding the entire system. NOTA can be a beginning but certainly not the end stage of reforms. Needless to say, it is getting publicity disproportionate to its utility. —— INFA