Necessity to carry out thorough going electoral reforms
On September 27, 2013, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM’s) used in elections must have a “none of the above” (NOTA) button at the end as an option. This is to put into practice the right of voters to actively and secretly express their rejection of all the candidates standing for election from their constituency. The Supreme Court Ruling was on a petition filed by the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL).
At the present time, voters can express their active rejection of all the candidates by using Section 49 O of the Election Conduct Rules. According to this rule, they have to publicly tell the polling officers of their booth, in front of the counting agents of the candidates that they do not want to vote for any of the candidates in the list. This obviously intimidates a majority of those wishing to express such an opinion from exercising this option. The Supreme Court ruling was based on the fact that this constituted a violation of fundamental right to secrecy while voting in elections.
One of the demands of people in the sphere of electoral reforms has been that the electorate must have the Right to Reject all candidates. NOTA does not fulfill this demand. Exercising the option of NOTA will in effect be no different from the exercise of Rule 49 O at present, as far as its impact on the results of an election are concerned. It will have no impact on the result of the elections. Former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami has pointed out that "Even if 90 voters in an electorate of 100 persons press the NOTA button, the poll will be decided in favour of the candidate who gets the maximum of the remaining 10 votes".
The first issue that arises from the Supreme Court Ruling is this— Why should this be the case? Why should the opinion of the voters who say no to all the candidates not influence the outcome of the elections? In a democracy, it should.
If the number of voters exercising the NOTA option were to exceed the votes polled by the candidate getting the highest number of votes, it would stand to reason that the election to that constituency must be countermanded and fresh elections held. Otherwise, it would be in contempt of the will of the electorate and a violation of democracy.
Behind the demand for NOTA is the desire of the electorate to reject candidates in whose selection they had no say. People are increasingly voicing the view that only those who are selected by the voters must be allowed to stand for elections. People want that their elected representatives are accountable to them and carry out the mandate of the electorate in the parliament or state assembly. In fact, the present system, far from ensuring this, actually ensures the opposite.
In the present system, government is formed by the party or coalition getting the majority in the legislature. As a rule, it is parties of the capitalist class, which are backed by this or that section of the capitalist class, which have the advantage of money power so necessary to win elections. The electoral system ensures that the ruling party as well as the other so called recognised political parties enjoy many privileges in contesting elections. Thus the bourgeoisie is able to ensure that the electorate is actually faced with no choice, except to “choose” between one or the other of the candidates of the ruling class parties, which are advertised as contenders for power. The parties these candidates belong to are committed to implement the agenda of the ruling class, and do not care for the agenda of the people. To get elected, they divide the people on the basis of caste, creed, region and so on, inflaming passions, so that the people do not fight for their own interests. Far from organising the people to fight for their concerns, they actually work to depoliticize the people.
The candidates selected by the people of the constituency, are discriminated against within the present electoral system. They may not belong to a party that is considered a realistic contender for power. Such candidates of the people, even if they are elected, have no say in the parliament or assembly, being forced to sit in the “opposition” benches. It is no wonder that in the present electoral system, people's candidates are an anomaly rather than the rule.
It is because people are more and more feeling that they have been deprived of the right to select candidates that the demand for Rejection has come up. Therefore, the starting point in electoral reforms has to be to ensure the Right of people to Select and Elect.
This means that while political parties will have the right to propose (nominate) candidates for elections, election rules must ensure that all other organizations, including trade unions, cooperatives, women’s organizations, youth organizations, retired peoples organizations, etc, can also propose candidates. The system must ensure that political parties do not have any special privileges relative to non-party candidates, and it is the electorate that selects, from those nominated, the final slate of candidates for the constituency, from whom one will be elected.
All those selected must have equal opportunity to put their proposals and manifestos before the electorate, and this must be supervised by an elected Constituency committee of that constituency. No candidate or party or organization would have the right to spend monies on an election campaign. The entire cost of the election campaign of the selected candidates would be borne by the government.
All those who are elected would together elect the government from amongst their midst, and there would be no division as at present between a ruling party and an opposition. The Constituency Committee would ensure that the elected MP or MLA renders periodic accounts. Through this committee, the electorate would exercise the powers to recall unsuitable representatives, as well as to initiate legislation.
Thoroughgoing electoral reforms are the need of the times, beginning with the implementation of the call NO ELECTION WITHOUT SELECTION by the people. Once the power to select candidates is taken away from the hands of political parties of the ruling class, and comes into the hands of the electorate, then people will be able to select their candidates from amongst their peers. Selection before election is the key electoral reform that we must fight for now.
The struggle to ensure the Right to Reject is part of the struggle of the people to ensure accountability of the elected representatives and the government as a whole towards the electorate. We cannot be satisfied with the present situation wherein the NOTA vote will not count in deciding the result. We must demand that the NOTA vote must count and if it polls the largest number in a constituency, then elections in that constituency must be countermanded.
This struggle must be waged as part of the struggle for a thoroughgoing reform of the political system and process to ensure that it is the people who set the agenda of government and are the decision makers.