Electoral reforms for democracy
Need for Election reforms
These days the topic of electoral reforms is gathering interest. The team anna who is spearheading a movement for Jan Lok Pal has on its agenda electoral reforms like No Vote option and power to recall. Some groups are also toying with idea of proportional representation. While considering electoral reforms, the aim should be to keep the election system simple and workable, strengthen democracy and keep the basic constitutional frame work intact. The basic constitutional frame work is multi party system based on adult franchise.
What ails our system:
The caste factor, money power and regional tendencies adversely affect the quality of candidates elected. Secondly, often the turnover of voters at polling both is very low. There is multiplicity of candidates. This enables many candidates to win only with support of fifteen percent of total voters. It is suggested by many that it should be compulsory to get at least fifty percent votes for getting elected.
Proportional representation is a remedy suggested to ensure that the political parties get representatives in proportion of votes cast in their favor as against the present system of the candidate with highest number of votes getting elected. In fact, if there is only one candidate in a constituency, there will be no election and the lone candidate will be declared elected unopposed. This system requires the political parties to sponsor names of candidates who will be nominated by them for election in proportion to number of votes polled in favor of the party. This system is complicated as people vote for a party and not for a candidate. This system requires a high degree of inner party democracy and discipline which is lacking. The left parties support this system. There is also a suggestion to introduce multi member constituencies to ensure representation to smaller parties also. The voters will be required to vote for more candidates and give their preferences as in a Presidential election and Rajya Sabha elections. Being complex and unintelligible, proportional representation is inappropriate. The best way is to educate people for casting their votes judicially.
‘None of the above’ option
Another suggestion is to add an option called ‘None of above’ below the list of candidates. If the number of votes polled in this option is more than the candidate getting highest number of votes, the election should be cancelled. Team Anna is very enthusiastically propagating this. In fact, this is next item on their agenda. The team members especially Arwind Kejriwal point out to rule 49A that provides for recording the no vote option before presiding officer. But they want that this should be on ballot itself so that secrecy of non voter may also be maintained. Rule 49A provides procedure when a valid voter decides not to cast his vote and record this. Remark in form 17A by presiding officer and elector’s signature Secrecy of voting violated. Paper ballot, votes could be wasted. Winner declared in spite of non votes. The number of non voters may be available under Right to Information act Right to reject. In fact, presently, there is no such right as any number of non voters cannot cause non declaration of result. T.S. Krishnamurthy CEC suggested in 2004 that many proposals were received for negative/ neutral voting. It was recommended that there should be a column- none of above. This proposal was also given in 2001. There is a hoax that if 49A votes are more than those of winning candidate, his poll will be cancelled or the contestants cannot contest again during life time. This is hoax. Many including team anna favor negative voting as this ensures an individual’s freedom to choose non voting. Experts do not favor this. Negative vote defeats the purpose of election. a. Annulling an election causes waste of public funds.
The No Vote option promotes irresponsibility and negativity. If there are so intelligent and conscious voters who can decide that there is no suitable candidate for their constituency in the list, will it not be better that they think a bit positively and instead of rejecting all nominate a candidate considered suitable by them. If no body in their constituency is suitable for being their representative, their way of thinking can be considered only utterly negative. It is just like saying that all type of food- veg and non veg, vegetable and pulses, mutton or fish are unsuitable and you choose nothing. Here non choice of any food will lead to starvation. Non choice of a candidate has similar result. If the non voters who dislike all voters are in majority or good number, most constituencies will be without any representation. Thus remedy is worse than the disease. The notion of ‘None of above’ is thus totally unproductive, negative minded and worth no thought. There is another aspect. This view arises form ignoring role of political parties. The people vote for government formation and they hence vote on part basis. It is not feasible to reject all major political parties like congress, BJP, Left and the prominent regional parties. One has to make a choice and vote for a candidate. If still the voters consider no candidate suitable, they may stay at home as voting is not compulsory. There is no need to formalize this negativity by the ‘no vote option’.
Right to recall
Another bright idea of Team anna is ‘Right to recall’. If the candidate elected is considered unsuitable, the voters should have the power to recall him. This idea also emerges from ignorance of party system. The major function of parliamentarians and legislators is to legislate which is on party line. The citizens have three votes- one for parliament, second for state assembly and third for local bodies. The issues which form subject matter of legislation concern whole nation or a state and not an individual constituency. An individual constituency has no direct nexus with foreign affairs, company matters, terrorist problem etc. In fact, only the political parties make promises to people through election manifesto. An individual candidate may have hardly any manifesto. The representatives discuss and vote on party basis. There is hardly any thing that may justify recall of a particular MP or MLA. Failure if any would be of the entire ruling party or alliance and not of a particular MP or MLA. Apparently, the idea of recall of elected representatives also flows from the ignorance of party system. An individual MP or MLA can be at fault only if he makes any breach of Representation of Peoples act, anti defection law or any other law. In such cases, speaker/ presiding officers of parliament or state assemblies have jurisdiction. Election commission may also intervene in appropriate circumstances. The utter ignorance or indifference to party based parliamentary democracy was revealed by attitude of Team anna members. Kejriwal directed the following to confront individual MPs of their constituency for support to Jan Lok Pal completely ignoring that MPs were elected as candidates of their political party on party symbols and they were obliged to go by party line only. Kejrriwal also lamented that the MPs listen more to their Party High Command. He totally ignored the plain fact that people elected candidates on a particular party symbol and the so the MPs had no option but to go by direction of their Party. It is also worthy mention that the purpose of elections is to vote a political party or alliance to govern. Legislature is not a debating club. Team anna members also made a ridiculous observation that many Mps do not participate in discussions. This observation also flows from ignorance or indifference to ground reality of party based parliamentary system. The various political groups in parliament are allocated some limited time and number of MPs who would speak. Hence discussions are according to agenda fixed by speaker in consultation with various political groups and an individual MP cannot speak out of turn as in a group discussion. It may also be not out of place to mention that a citizen may contest an election from any constituency. This is because there is no nexus between functions of an M.P. and the constituency.
It is amply clear that the very thought of recall of an MP is weird and unjustified. If there is to be a recall, this would be of entire ruling alliance and this is already there in shape of no confidence motion. Without any fear of contradiction, it can be said that proportional representation, ‘none of above option and recall option are impractical, unjustified and not in accordance with the basic feature of our party based parliamentary political system.
State Funding of elections
However, some modification in election system is definitely required. The biggest cause of elections is costly elections. The candidates have to spend one crore rupees or more on an election. Having won a parliamentary seat by spending so much, the MP will definitely indulge in corrupt practices and in the course corrupt the entire political and administrative machinery. The issue of costly elections needs to be addressed first. If this issue is not resolved, any other steps including enactment of Lok pal Bill will be of no help in curbing corruption. It is suggested that individual candidates be debarred from spending any money from their pocket. State funding of elections need be introduced. This should be through recognized political parties only. The party accounts need be audited by C & AG with a view to audit and scrutinize election expenses.
Restrict Bye elections
Presently bye elections are held whenever a vacancy arises. The vacancies arising from death of a parliamentarian or legislator need be filled by bye elections. But when the contestants win in more than one constituency and resign to accommodate their senior leaders or an MP is appointed as minister in a state, the bye elections are a waste of public time and money. It is suggested that no bye elections should be held to fill vacancies arising from resignation for any reason other than death. Also there should no bye-election in last year of the term of Lok Sabha or State assembly. Only recognized political parties be allowed to contest
As the political parties and Alliance alone can make a government, the small unrecognized groups and independents should not be allowed to contest elections. It has been observed that most of the small and regional parties indulge in most of the corruption as they have hardly any sense of responsibility. Moreover, independents and small groups presence makes the parliamentary system weak. These elements are there only for horse trading and various unethical practices. Very small political groups and individuals are more vulnerable to manipulations of various kinds.
We need to educate people to actively participate in elections and take active interest in matters of state policy and form intelligent opinion and not fall victim to caste, regional and other narrow considerations that form vote banks. The present system of adult franchise should be retained. With more informed and conscious voters, most of the inadequacies of the system will be eradicated. Only recognized political parties should be allowed to contest.
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