COMMENTARY october vol xlviII no EPW Economic Political Weekly The None of the Above Option Manjari Katju It is unlikely that providing Indian voters with a no vote option will either improve vo PDF document - DocSlides

COMMENTARY october   vol xlviII no  EPW Economic  Political Weekly  The None of the Above Option Manjari Katju It is unlikely that providing Indian voters with a no vote option will either improve vo PDF document - DocSlides

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Voter turnout is not an issue in the country since over the long term it has been showing an upward trend Criminalisation is the result of social and economic factors and the nomination of candidates with a criminal background may not change merely ID: 21453

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Presentations text content in COMMENTARY october vol xlviII no EPW Economic Political Weekly The None of the Above Option Manjari Katju It is unlikely that providing Indian voters with a no vote option will either improve vo


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COMMENTARY october 19, 2013 vol xlviII no 42 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 10 The ‘None of the Above’ Option Manjari Katju It is unlikely that providing Indian voters with a “no vote option will either improve voter participation or contribute to a decriminalisation of politics. Voter turnout is not an issue in the country, since over the long term it has been showing an upward trend. Criminalisation is the result of social and economic factors, and the nomination of candidates with a criminal background may not change merely by giving voters the option of saying “no”. In countries with a no vote option, such votes add up to an insigni cant number. Manjari Katju ( mkatju@gmail.com ) teaches political science at the University of Hyderabad. ampaigns to “cleanse” the political system have gained considerable ground in the last few years in urban India. These have strengthened with the nearing of assembly elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as also the general elections scheduled for 2014. Coupled with this are attempts, both institutional and movement-driven, to make demo- cracy in India more participatory. It may be useful to start with a brief look at the legal history of the various moves towards this cleansing of the elec- toral system. In July this year the Supreme Court ruled that parliamentarians and state legislators who were convicted of serious crimes, meaning carrying a jail term of two years or more, would be barred from contesting elections. The Court struck down Section 8 of the Rep- resentation of the People Act which allowed convicted members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies to continue in of ce while their appeals journeyed through courts often for inde nite periods. The government, backed by support from almost all political parties, had intro- duced a bill in Parliament to override this Supreme Court judgment and then passed the ill-fated ordinance which now stands withdrawn. Supreme Court Judgment In September, close on the heels of the contentious ordinance, came another judg- ment from the Supreme Court. On a public interest litigation ( PIL ) led by People’s Union for Civil Liberties ( PUCL ) a few years back, it ruled that voters should have the option to reject all the candidates who were standing for election in their con- stituency. It directed the Election Com- mission (EC) of India to include the option “None of the Above” (now popularly called NOTA ) in the electronic voting machines EVM ). The Supreme Court felt that this would contribute to cleansing politics that the political leadership would formally know that there are people un- happy with the parties’ choice of candi- dates. The logic is that this would build moral pressure on political parties and possibly bring about a rethink on their choice of candidates, making them hesi- tant to put up candidates with criminal records. According to the Court, exercis- ing the option of rejecting all candidates would lead to a “systemic change” in the whole electoral process. The Supreme Court stated that besides cleaning up politics, the option of nega- tive vote would foster greater participa- tion among voters as this would draw to the polling booths those who otherwise do not vote because they are not satis ed with the candidates contesting elections. The right to a negative vote would encour- age them to visit the polling stations and express their unhappiness by exercising their choice of rejection. The Court felt that this would also contribute to bring- ing down impersonation in voting. The proposal for a negative vote had come from, among others, the EC in 2001 when James Lyngdoh was the chief elec- tion commissioner ( CEC ). It was reiter- ated in 2004 by CEC T S Krishna Murthy (see note 1). Though the Conduct of Elec- tion Rules, 1961 provide that one can refuse to vote after identifying oneself and thereafter, appropriate entries would be made by the polling of cer in the electoral register, etc, this procedure did not protect the secrecy of the negative ballot. As former CEC S Y Quraishi recently pointed out in a newspaper article, the EC has been asking for this option to en- sure secrecy and bring down bogus vot- ing and not for any other reason. The PUCL petition on which the Supreme Court based its ruling was on the same issue – maintaining the secrecy of the voting decision. The Court went a little further in its judgment and highlighted the cleansing and participatory dimen- sions of the negative vote. Causes and Effects Published research on causes and effects of negative voting brings out aspects of it not easily discernible or immediately
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COMMENTARY Economic & Political Weekly EPW october 19, 2013 vol xlviII no 42 11 visible (see, for instance, Kernell 1977; Fiorina and Shepsle 1989). However, this published research is more about nega- tive responses to governmental policies/ actions rather than such responses to the choice of candidates. The scholars looking at negative voting in the United States some years ago pointed out that such voting occurs when voters respond more strongly to political decisions and actions they are unhappy about than those actions/outcomes they approve of or are in favour – in which case they might not go to the polling booth at all (Fiorina and Shepsle 1989). As is obvi- ous, it is a vote expressing disapproval. This disapproval can be both of policies and leadership. Voters satis ed with political actions and leadership might or might not come out to vote. With the option of a negative vote, the same options are also available to those who do not approve of the can- didates or policies and are generally un- happy with the whole political situation at a given time. They can choose to sit back and not come to the polling booth at all or come to the polling booth and exercise their voting rights (in secrecy) to express displeasure. Negative voting, if it is against the incumbents, highlights the issue of ac- countability of the political leadership more sharply than what we can call “positive” voting. Its objective is to drive home, more forcefully, the point that the leadership has to change itself and its politics, and has to govern better. Political parties may now have to be much more unambiguously accountable for their actions beginning from their choice of candidates contesting elections to the decisions they take in government. Earlier research also points out that negative voting unlike positive voting does not require a highly politicised public or even a highly informed one (Kernell 1977: 53). In the case of India, the inclusion of NOTA might not mean a signi cant rise in turnout if the non-voting (but eligible) section does not feel involved in politics or is cynical about it – as has been seen in the case of a substantial section of city dwellers. But this uncertainty should not stop attempts to increase accounta- bility and improve democratic norms. There is also the question of whether electoral participation increases with the option of negative vote on the ballot paper or EVM . Available academic liter- ature hardly indicates anything on this, perhaps because the question is not as relevant and signi cant to electoral parti- cipation as, say, questions like “education or “class identity”. But one can look at voter turnouts – which indicate electoral participation – in some of the countries where the Supreme Court pointed out that this option exists. Sweden gives its voters the option of a negative vote by way of a blank ballot the voters can choose a blank ballot paper instead of one with party names and put the same in the ballot box. In Sweden, voter turnouts have been historically very high – averaging around 85%. A quick glance shows that here the “blank votes” stay around less than 1%. Greece and Brazil, two countries mentioned by the Supreme Court, as having provision for casting blank votes do have high voter turnouts, but like Sweden and Finland, they both follow a system of compulsory voting. Voter participation in Chile has swung between highs and lows, and the country follows compulsory voting too. Political analysts have pointed out that negative voting has more signi cance in countries which follow compulsory voting. Since here one does not have a choice but to vote, one can give a no vote or blank vote if one does not want to vote for any candidate. In countries which do not have compulsory voting, the voters who disapprove of all the candi- dates on offer can sit back and need not come out at all. The state of Nevada in the US intro- duced this option in 1975. A year later, this option outpolled the two contesting candidates in the Republican primary for the House of Representatives, but be- cause of the non-binding nature of this legislation, the rst candidate won the nomination. Interestingly, Nevada has seen a steady decline in voter turnouts since the introduction of the negative ballot (see note 3). There have also been voices asking for the none option to be withdrawn as protest candidates gradu- ally began to realise that it was “drain- ing” support from them (see note 3). Closer home in Bangladesh the no vote option was introduced in 2008. In fact, the draft law suggested that if in a constituency the no vote gure touched 50% or more, the election in that partic- ular constituency should be cancelled to be held again later. There has been one general election in Bangladesh, i e, in 2008, with that option. Voter turnout saw a dramatic rise in these parliamen- tary elections reaching 78.93%. But the no vote gure did not cross 1%. Ukraine, another country mentioned by the Supreme Court, does have higher voter turnouts than India, but is seeing a fall in recent years. The parliamentary election participation has fallen from 75.8% in 1994 to 57.4% in 2012. Getting separate data on negative/ protest/no votes/blank votes is not easy. In some countries blank votes are counted as invalid votes and not reported sepa- rately, but in some places they are counted separately but treated as invalid or protest votes. The main reason for this is that in most countries where the nega- tive/protest/blank/no vote option is given, it does not have any legal power of changing the electoral outcome and/or it is usually an insigni cant fraction of the votes polled. What would happen in India if the number of NOTA votes exceed the number of votes for the winning candi- date? According to S Y Quraishi, Even if there are 99 NOTA votes out of a total of 100, and candidate gets just one vote, is the winner, having obtained the only valid vote. The rest will be treated as invalid or no votes (see note 2). Former CEC Navin Chawla reiterates this legal position. According to him, under the present law the option of repolling if NOTA votes are more than those ob- tained by any candidate does not exist. Cleaner Politics? Does a negative vote on candidates lead to cleaner politics? Research on this ques- tion is also scarce. But a simple answer to this question may be: not any cleaner than happens when an incumbent gov- ernment is rejected because of popular dissatisfaction with its rule. Will the negative vote lead to cleaner politics in India? Will it bring to bear moral pressure
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COMMENTARY october 19, 2013 vol xlviII no 42 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 12 upon political parties? Opinion here which has mainly come from jurists, legal experts and election commissioners – is divided. Legal expert K K Venugopal who has supported the need for a nega- tive vote in India argues that it would lead to a cleaner politics. 7 In his opinion, if the number of negative votes exceeds the number of votes cast for the success- ful candidate, the election to the constit- uency should be nulli ed. This would, according to him, have a “salutary effect on political parties who would then stop relying on “history sheeters, gangsters and thugs” – and thus “gradually the system itself would be cleansed”. Views on Outcome According to S Y Quraishi expecting this from political parties is “far too optimistic, given their refusal to debar tainted can- didates from contesting, despite a public hue and cry for two decades” (Quraishi, op cit). Senior advocate and constitu- tional expert Rajeev Dhavan shares this view. According to him, “...the chief justice’s optimistic consequentialism is far removed from reality. The shameless do not get shamed. The view of consti- tutional analyst Subhash Kashyap is similar. He feels that this is “more of a fashionable suggestion” and would “not affect the selection of candidates by political parties”. Parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party BJP ) and the Aam Aadmi Party ( AAP ) welcomed the judgment saying that this would lead to electoral reforms. 10 The CPI ) does not see any purpose in it. 11 One will have to wait and watch how the NOTA option works out in India, though the experience from other countries does not show a discernible impact on the electoral system in the near or midterm. Behind Criminalisation While an institutional effort to enthuse ethical norms in electoral politics needs to be upheld, one has to keep in mind that criminalisation of politics, as of other institutions of state and society, is to a large extent a function of massive and continuing socio-economic inequal- ities and uneven power relations. Bridg- ing these inequalities through political and institutional efforts would play a greater role in curbing criminalisation and cleansing the political system. As far as improving participation in elections is concerned it is linked to a whole lot of factors. Complicated regis- tration processes, voter apathy, income disparities, increasing spatial mobility, loss of a day’s wages and social turmoil are some of the factors that have come in the way of bigger turnouts in various democracies of the world. The availability or otherwise of NOTA option is just one of the factors that will in uence voter turnout. The western industrialised democracies are grappling with the problem of falling voter turnouts and they have been debating the need for compulsory voting. In India, on the other hand, the situation is the reverse – voter participation is rising. One need not worry, at least in the near future, about the extent of participation in elections here. But, if indeed, a decline in turnout does take place, does compulsory voting become a possible option? It is too pre- mature to say anything on this now. For the time being, however, one has to wait and see whether NOTA would lead to higher participation in elections in India. Notes 1 See Election Commission of India (2004) for a reference to the 2001 communication, p 9, ac- cessed on 3 October 2013. 2 S Y Quraishi, “Pressure of a Button”, The Indian Express , 3 October 2013, http://www.indianex- press.com/news/pressure-of-a-button/1177434/1, accessed on 3 October 2013. 3 See “None of These Candidates”, online Nevada Encyclopaedia , http://www.onlinenevada.org/ articles/none-these-candidates, accessed on 4 October 2013. 4 PTI, “Bangladesh amends election law incorpo- rating –no’ vote option”, The Times of India , 14 July 2008, http://articles.timeso ndia.india- times.com/2008-07-14/rest-of-world/27918086_ 1_general-elections-votes-amendment, accessed on 4 October 2013. 5 ace: The Electoral Knowledge Network, http:// aceproject.org/electoral-advice/archive/ques- tions/replies/705390375, accessed on 4 Octo- ber 2013. 6 Navin Chawla, “NOTA-ble Impact”, The Asian Age , 4 October 2013, http://www.asianage. com/debate/nota-ble-impact-098, accessed on 5 October 2013. 7 K K Venugopal, “Redemocratising the Electoral System” (Fourth Rajaji Memorial Lecture, 4 April 2009), The Hindu , http://www.hindu. com/nic/elecsyst.htm, accessed on 4 October 2013. 8 Rajeev Dhavan, “Fixing A Flawed Democracy: Hello to NOTA, Bye to Convicted Lawmakers, Court Offer Rescue Where Politicians Don’t”, The Times of India (Hyderabad edition, p 12), 4 October 2013. 9 Subhash Kashyap (interview), “NOTA Defeats the Purpose of Holding Elections”, Business Standard , 5 October 2013, http://www.busi- ness-standard.com/article/opinion/nota-de- feats-the-purpose-of-holding-elections-sub- hash-kashyap- 113092800791_1.html, accessed on 5 October 2013. 10 PTI, “BJP, AAP Welcome SC Decision in Poll- Bound Delhi”, Hindustan Times , 27 September 2013, http://www.hindustantimes.com/India- news/NewDelhi/bjp-aap-welcome-sc-deci- sion-in-poll-bound-delhi/Article1-1128032. aspx, accessed on 5 October 2013. 11 Mahesh Vijapurkar, “Why the Right to Reject Will Be the Gamechanger in Indian Politics”, Firstpost. Politics , 28 September 2013, http:// www. rstpost.com/politics/why-the-right-to- reject-will-be-the-gamechanger-in-indian-pol- itics-1139273.html?utm_source=hp-footer, ac- cessed on 5 October 2013. REFERENCES Election Commission (2004): Proposed Electoral Reforms , http://eci.nic.in/eci_main/PROPOSED_ELEC- TORAL_REFORMS.pdf, accessed on 3 October 2013. Fiorina, Morris P and Kenneth A Shepsle (1989): “Is Negative Voting an Artifact?”, American Journal of Political Science , 33 (2): 423-39. Kernell, Samuel (1977): “Presidential Popularity and Negative Voting: An Alternative Explana- tion of the Midterm Congressional Decline of the President’s Party”, The American Political Science Review , 71(1): 44-66. EPW E-books Select EPW books are now available as e-books in Kindle and iBook (Apple) formats. The titles are 1. Village Society ( ED . S URINDER J ODHKA (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CS62AAW ; https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/village-society/id640486715?mt=11) 2. Environment, Technology and Development ( ED . R OHAN D’S OUZA (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CS624E4 ; https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/environment-technology-development/ id641419331?mt=11) 3. Windows of Opportunity: Memoirs of an Economic Adviser ( BY K S K RISHNASWAMY (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CS622GY ; https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/windows-of-opportunity/id640490173?mt=11) Please visit the respective sites for prices of the e-books. More titles will be added gradually.

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