By Nayanakhee Sarma:
“Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody”
— Franklin P. Adams.
The Supreme Court of India recently passed two remarkable judgments which have paved the way for a major electoral reform in the history of Indian socio-political system. The first is the judgment which upholds by striking out the membership of the legislative assembly or of the Parliament if convicted by a court of law for two years or more, and the second is the order to the Election Commission to make provision for the option of ‘None Of The Above (NOTA)’ in the ballot paper or electronic voting machines.
With the option of NOTA or negative voting given by the Election Commission of India, people now will be able to express their unhappiness with the parties’ choice of candidates or their policies. The general public of the country can now rightfully exercise their ‘Right to Freedom of Expression’ in the voting procedure which was otherwise suppressed by the public either by not coming out to vote or by voting another candidate against a particular candidate even though the voter knows that the other candidate is not up to the mark to be the people’s representative. This, in turn, will build moral pressure on the political parties and compel them to rethink on their policies and choice of candidates.
This is what Democracy should really mean in which the general public of the country is able to obligate the political parties to change their decisions. But it will be effective only when the law provides the provision of re-election in any constituency when the NOTA has received majority of the votes. Unfortunately, such a law is presently not available in India and candidates with the second highest number of votes will be declared elected as per the provision of Rule 64 of the Representation of Peoples Act. Now, the question arises when the majority of the votes has been against a candidate then what would be the legitimacy of the election and what is the use of introduction of NOTA in ballot paper and EVM machines? Whether the political parties will carry on with their own policies and choice of candidates, considering NOTA equivalent to invalid votes or whether NOTA will act as a third party representing the voice of the general public? The answer to these questions lies in bringing a change in the law.
On the other hand, if the lawmakers and election commission thinks that introducing NOTA will increase the number of voting turn outs, then maybe they should think of bringing a reform in the Law. Because if a voter is not satisfied with the candidates nominated by the parties, he will vote in NOTA expecting that it will bring a change in the election results, but in the present scenario a vote in the NOTA is still wasted as it will not be effective in the outcome of the election procedure. According to political analysis, negative voting has more significance in countries which follows compulsory voting like that in Sweden, Greece, Finland and Brazil. But it is interesting to note that number of blank votes stays around 1 percent in Sweden. Even in countries that do not have compulsory voting, the number of negative votes remains very less, like that in 2008 general election in Bangladesh the figure of no vote did not exceed 1 percent.
NOTA will give the voter greater flexibility and freedom for expression of their preferences but the actual outcome of creating moral pressure and increase in voters’ turnout by introducing NOTA will be seen only in the upcoming Loksabha Elections in 2014.