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New Delhi

Sanjeev Gupta/European Pressphoto Agency
‘None of the Above’ proved to be less popular than anticipated.

For the first time in elections in India, voters who cast ballots in recent assembly polls had the option to reject all candidates and vote for “none of the above.”

The choice to do so appears to have been less popular than anticipated.

Across Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, only 1.67 million voters out of a combined electorate of 115 million, chose to assert their right to register contempt for all candidates, according to figures released Sunday by the Election Commission of India.

Vote counting in Mizoram where elections were also held in November began Monday in the predominantly Christian state because of petitions by church officials who said that Sunday should be reserved for religious observance. The Congress party retained power in the tiny northeastern state, where results, released by the Election Commission of India Monday, showed that the “none of the above” option was used by less than 1% (around 3,800) of voters.

Fewer than 1% of voters (around 50,000) selected the new ballot option in Delhi, where no clear winner emerged.  The Bharatiya Janata Party captured 31 seats and 28 seats went to the newly-formed Aam Aadmi Party, which tapped into a wave of anti-corruption sentiment in the Indian capital.

Political analysts said the number choosing to vote for “none of the above” was low in Delhi because there the AAP acted as a protest vote against the country’s two main parties.

The number rejecting all candidates was below 2% in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

In Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP won comfortably against the ruling Congress party, 643,000 voted “none of the above.”

The BJP also claimed a landslide victory in Rajasthan and just over 588,000 voters picked “none of the above” there.

In Chhattisgarh, however, the so-called NOTA vote was exercised slightly more widely, especially in seats affected by Naxal insurgency, with the proportion of voters selecting “none of the above” at just over 3%.

Political analysts said that the small percentage of voters opting for “none of the above” was that it is a new concept in Indian elections and many voters are still unaware it exists.

The provision, which was introduced following a ruling in September by the Supreme Court , differs from the “right to reject” system whereby if the majority of voters reject all candidates, a reelection is held. Even if the majority of voters reject all candidates it has no affect on election outcomes in India.

Chhattisgarh’s Chitrakot, was the constituency with the highest number of voters (10,848)  who disapproved of all candidates.

The state produced no clear winner; the BJP took 49 seats, ten more than the Congress party. In 15 out of 90 constituencies, more people voted for “none of the above” than the margin of victory between the two main parties.

Had voters who chose “none of the above” picked the BJP in these constituencies, the party would have gained an extra seven seats. If they had picked Congress, that party would have bagged another eight constituencies.

The results would still have been inconclusive either way, but do indicate that these protest votes have the ability to alter the outcome of an election.

“This is significant, but at the same time there’s no way of knowing whether these NOTA people would have turned up to vote if the NOTA choice wasn’t there,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, a founding member of the Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms, which campaigns for more transparency in government.
“If they had voted for a candidate, who would they have voted for? That’s not known,” he added.

In some seats, the number of votes from people who rejected all parties was also higher than the number of votes received by the candidate who came in  third.
In Madhya Pradesh, this happened in 62 out the state’s 230 seats. For Chhattisgarh, 34 out of 90 constituencies faced the scenario where “none of the above” received the third highest number of votes and in Rajasthan the figure was 49 out of 200. There were no such instances in Delhi because the emergence of the AAP created a tight, three-horse race. In Mizoram too, the vote was largely shared between the winning Congress party and two local parties – the Mizo National Front and the Zoram Nationalist Party.

Some political commentators are already predicting the impact of “none of the above” on national elections due by May.

Mohammed Badrul Alam, head of the political science department at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, says that the protest vote will hold very little sway with voters.
“My guess is in five months from now, probably the NOTA number will go less. I think supporters will be more polarized,” Mr. Alam said.

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