The visible results of the present Mumbai Blast has resulted in Kasab languishing behind bars and the common people loosing their faith over the politicians. In such a scenario what is been recommended is the idea of ‘negative voting’. Rule 49-O of the Election Conduct Rules in India provides that a voter can go to a polling booth and then declare in writing that he/she refuses to vote for any of the candidates, i.e., reject all candidates in a particular constituency. Even the Supreme Court has called for a large bench to decide on a recent PIL filed by the PUCL, asking for the introduction of the ‘No Vote’ in the ballot. The Election Commission of India has endorsed the idea too.
The concept of ‘negative voting’ has triggered the cynicism of the people for the politicians. But I fear that this if accepted will do more evil than good and feel this is an escapist mechanism adopted by the people.
Foremost criticism which comes in is that we cannot run a democracy in vacuum. We need politicians, if everyone is corrupt then from where are the non-corrupt leaders to come? Who will bear the responsibility of governance? In fact, most of the people who feel dejected with the present state of politics are not inclined to become politicians themselves or work as vigilant watchdogs of society. General apathy for politics and mistrust for politicians is dangerous for the future of democracy. The intelligentsia and the well- meaning critics of the present day political system should offer positive and constructive suggestions to improve the system. Rather, they should actually come forward to cleanse the system and offer alternatives, otherwise bear with these politicians with all their pluses and minuses.
Secondly, democracy is not only for the majority and minority views also need to be protected so that they have the opportunity and freedom to persuade people and peacefully win others to their side, so that today’s minority has the potential of a major say tomorrow. By refusing to vote for a legislator, the eligible voter is, in effect, abstaining from participation in the entire political process. A ‘No Vote’ on the ballot aimed at electing the representatives themselves, however, will only undermine the legitimacy of the process of representative democracy itself.
Thirdly, it has been repeatedly said that our democracy has become unrepresentative, unresponsive, and our politics has been devalued and even debased. But the problem of democracy can only be dealt with even more democracy, and not by short circuiting it. The statistics show that a typical representative can get elected with about 35% of the vote, in the winner take all first-past-the-post electoral system that we have inherited from the British, and made it our own. Indeed, there are instances, when a winning candidate may get less than even 25% of the total votes polled. If we assume that in a typical election about the half of those registered to vote actually do cast their ballot, this would be mean it is possible to win the support of barely 12% of the voters in a particular constituency.
Is this low threshold a problem or strength of our democracy? In my view, this is perhaps the single biggest strength of our electoral system. The low threshold gives almost every candidate who wants to contest a hope that electoral success is not an impossible dream. This is perhaps one of the reason why increasing number of people contest the elections, and so many parties vie for a place. And this is perhaps also the reason why is it so difficult for sitting legislators to get re-elected.
Thus, on one hand if we provide the ‘no vote’ provision then we may give preference to the individual choice but then we need to look at the outcomes also. Keeping one self out from the political issues and still criticizing the politicians is no way going to solve the problem of corruption in politics. The only way we can make a difference is by participation rather criticism.