Compulsory Voting: To Be Or Not To be?

Posted on August 22, 2012 in Politics

By Neeraj Ramchandran:

One of the reasons why democracy always gets that one-up over dictatorship, is because of the luxury of distinction between discretion and obligation. If the former of the two choices is seized by the government, the democracy will fail to live up to its basic premise

Think about the Jaago Re ad during the previous general elections which in spite of being admired by many, failed to deliver, with voter turnouts plunging to an all time low. Now think about the same ad in a new light “jaago re jaago warna…”. Ridiculous as it might seem now, it may soon be a reality we might find hard to come to terms with. Compulsory voting is being increasingly debated as a part of the fusillade of electoral reforms in the offing, especially after civil society movements like Anna Hazare’s which have somewhere within that shrewd political mind instilled a belief that people will buy anything that is novel and out of the box.

For those who have heard about this for the first time, the fact-file brings an interesting piece of information: There are 23 countries in the world already practicing it, including a few developed countries of Europe. A non partisan examination says that this approach may not be as iron-fisted as it seems to be after all. The cornerstone of the compulsory voting system is the ideology that, the greater is the turnout of educated voters in elections, better will be their collective choice, considering their ability to look beyond short term gains ( might be a TV set or two for a family that votes in Tamil Nadu) and petty vote bank politics of cast, creed etc.

Without a shadow of doubt, this system, on being implemented will lead to a higher spending from the public exchequer and higher mobilization of election manpower than usual .This further begs the obvious question; Is it worth all the effort? Especially with the cynical middle class which is more than eager to jump at the opportunity to say “Sab neta chor hain. Koi fayda nahin” implying “All politicians are thieves, We have nothing to gain.” Moreover going by the trends in countries which are actually practicing it, there is also a problem of high number of random votes which eventually determine the victor in the moment of truth.

In India an issue can be endlessly debated but it materializes only when popular sentiment is associated with it, which is clearly evident from the Lokpal Bill issue. Also what is beneficial for one party may not be looked at in a positive light by another party even within the same coalition( refer to Mamata Banerjee and FDI in Retail) leading to stasis in parliament sessions.

The uncertainty regarding whether or not this can materialize is always going to be there. Circumstances are going to matter a lot on the political scene. Sad but true.