The Political Scenario and the Right To ‘No’ Vote

Avneesh Kumar:

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” – Thomas Jefferson

Introduction

The word “Democracy”, which derives itself from the Greek word “demos,” or “people,” is defined, as a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people.

As also defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary – “government by the people; especially: rule of the majority: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections”.

In the modern system, the government recognizes this aforesaid supremacy by providing the citizens a right to vote. But simultaneously when we see the world, wherever there is a democracy, some values are added with its functioning; like in most of the cases we recognize these values by incorporating them in the constitution.

Now, the question is, for what purpose were these values added? What was the requirement of doing so? Was it only a moral gesture, a showpiece? Certainly the answer to this third question is a big ‘No’.

It should depend on people as to whom they want to elect as their leader, and choose only if they are worthy candidates. If they had to cast their votes in the opposite direction (no vote), it will be nothing more than a formality. But democracy is not a formality. It is the ruling of the people, by the people and for the people. Those who are going to lead this country should have a feeling of duty towards the people who have trusted them, who gave them the power to establish, administer and run the nation; and that rule should be a rule of “Law”, a rule of “Justice”.

For an effective negative voting, it is important that it should have secrecy. Election Commission of India (ECI), in its electoral reforms, has recommended as follows:

“The Commission recommends that the law should be amended to specifically provide for negative / neutral voting. For this purpose, Rules 22 and 49B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 may be suitably amended adding a proviso that in the ballot paper and the particulars on the ballot unit, in the column relating to names of candidates, after the entry relating to the last candidate, there shall be a column “None of the above”, to enable a voter to reject all the candidates, if he chooses so. Such a proposal was earlier made by the Commission in 2001 (vide letter dated 10.12.2001).”

Importance of Vote as “conscious” manifestation of the choice of people-

In a democracy, some type of representation is legitimately provided to people. Reasons for this are:

1. The notion of voting is based on a very old principle- “Every one is the best judge of his happiness”. So, the people should decide who will the best person to lead them, and who would work in the best possible way for their interests. It was also assumed by the innovators of democracy that invariably the people will choose the most genuine candidate.

2. Elected candidate is assumed to have derived his power through the political will of the people, and the vote is a medium to show, that to whom people want to give the power of their political will.

3. The term was fixed because it is fairly possible that the candidate who was chosen by the people in the last election may have lost the political will of the people (maybe because of indulging in corrupt practices, because of his inactiveness, because of his arbitrariness). In this way there is a check by the people, on the government and the government is continually required to have favourable political will of the people.

4. Everyone participates (or should participate) in the process of voting to ensure that the elected candidate is not of a particular class or race or caste.

Sir Winston Churchill described the importance of voting in a democratic election in the following words: “At the bottom of all tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into a little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper – no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point”.

Practical Conditions of Our Democracy and Judicial Stand on Negative Voting

Today, the notion of democracy is spoiled by the present system; the actions of our representatives are more for their individual interest than in the interest of the people. Since independence, there has been a continuous degradation in the moral values of our legislature. In July 2008, Washington Times reported that nearly a fourth of the 540 Indian Parliament members faced criminal charges, “including human trafficking, immigration rackets, embezzlement, rape and even murder”.

When our representatives are not honest, we can’t expect other officers, working at the sub-ordinate levels to work in a proper manner. In almost every government department, incidents of corruption, and other irregularities happen. They are the driver of the vehicle called “nation”, and it is on them to steer the nation onto the path of development. They themselves are not honest and the result is widespread corruption. In a democracy, marching against political leaders and raving and ranting on blogs is certainly an option. But it is no substitute for actually participating in the political process. The politicians are certainly a problem and their failure to inspire India’s voters is an issue which calls for deep introspection but voters deserve a fair share of blame for their apathy too.

“Democracy is a part of the basic structure of our Constitution and rule of law and free and fare election are basic features of democracy. Democracy postulates that there should be periodical elections so that people may be in a position either to re-elect the same representatives or choose new representatives. Democracy also contemplates that elections should be free and fair and the voters should be in a position to vote for the candidates of their choice” these lines were said by our apex court in the case PUCL.

Although till now, in clear words nothing was said by court on the matter of negative voting, but there are some judgments of courts which implied that citizens may have a right to negative vote.

Ground for Providing Negative Voting

Lack of Worthy Candidates- There is a lack of worthy candidates in this area. In such a situation, people know that the candidates are involved in many scandals. But even in a situation of extremely unworthy representatives contesting for elections, people have to vote for at least one candidate.

Monopoly in Politics- Generally, the sons and daughters of an old leader occupied the seat of their ancestors, and obviously the hope of any change is unavailable. In many constituencies, only the members of some families are ruling, because new people don’t want to come enter politics, they want to refrain either from the nature of politics or because of some type of fear. By negative voting, this type of monopoly will definitely decrease.

Absence of Political will – Voting is a mere formality in the absence of unworthy candidates and the chosen candidate will never have the political will of the people. People chose him not because it was their conscious choice but because they had to vote. In this way he can never be the true representative of the people. Active interest from the people’s side and the chosen representative’s side is missing in such a case.

Problem of Abstaining from Voting – When people know that there is no worthy candidate and still they have to choose one, they prefer not to go for voting. That’s why the voting percentage in our country is not good, very seldom it goes more than 60% and many times even below 50%6.

Degradation of Democratic Values – Politics suffers from widespread criminalization. Now, it is no more a public service, but is being used for immoral and individual use.

Worthy and honest people would come forward- If people are given the right to negative vote, certainly a big portion of people, which has continuously suffered because of these politicians, will get chance to show that they don’t want any of these politicians. It will also create a type of consciousness in the minds of honest and worthy people that there is a need for them to come forward and be a part of the governing system.

Creating a Change in the attitude of Politicians- This will also create a change in the attitude of our representative. Certainly if people would have a right to negative vote, there would be a fear in the minds of politicians that the people are not bound to necessarily vote for some one; they can reject all of them. If there will be a negative voting right, and a minimum percentage of votes to declare a candidate duly elected, it will bring a responsibility in our representatives to work for the people.

Conclusion-

If people would have the right to negative vote they will get a chance to show that they will support only a candidate who would be a real representative of their interests. Our preamble talks about securing justice, liberty and equality, but today it seems that things are visible only on paper and books and they have no practical value at all.

How can we even talk about justice without honest and responsible representatives, who would work for the public?

What our representatives are doing is clearly a derogation of democracy, of the defined values of constitution. In such a situation people must have the right to negative vote, and there must also be a fixed percentage of votes to declare a candidate as a representative (to ensure that a substantial portion of the public accepted him/her their leader) That candidate will be a candidate chosen by the public because he is the real choice of people, he is a worthy candidate, not because he is the best in the worst.

Nothing is more important for sustenance of democratic polity than the voter making an intelligent and rational choice of his or her representative. For this, the voter should be in a position to effectively formulate his/her opinion and to ultimately express that opinion through ballot by casting the vote. The concomitant of the right to vote which is the basic postulate of democracy is thus twofold: first, formulation of opinion about the candidates and second, the expression of choice by casting the vote in favor of the preferred candidate at the polling booth7. For the existence of a true democracy we have to give people full power to manifest their right to choose effectively, under no pressure, whatsoever. The right to negative voting Could invariably be the most important part of this power.

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