The asian age
J.S. Chhokar
New Delhi

The writer is former dean, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad
Expect good candidates
J.S. Chhokar

What has come to be called the “none of the above” (NOTA) judgment by the Supreme Court can be a landmark in electoral and political reforms in the country if it is implemented properly.

This means that the expectations raised by the Supreme Court in its judgment be satisfied, or at least attempted to be satisfied. The bench has said: “For democracy to survive, it is essential that the best available men should be chosen as people’s representatives for proper governance of the country. This can be best achieved through men of high moral and ethical values, who win the elections on a positive vote. Thus in a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to choose ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) button, which will indeed compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate.”
“Such an option gives the voter the right to express his disapproval with the kind of candidates that are being put up by the political parties. When political parties will realise that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them, gradually there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity.”
Thus, implementation should be such that political parties are “forced” to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity and are “men of high moral and ethical values.” How can this be achieved?
Certainly not in the way the legal adviser of the Election Commission has recommended in a statement to a national newspaper, wherein he has said that the Nota votes would be counted but that would have no impact on the result of the election.
The following needs to be done for implementing the judgment in its proper spirit: Votes cast for the Nota button should be counted; in case the Nota button gets more votes than any of the candidates, none of the candidates should be declared elected and a fresh election held in which none of the candidates in the round are allowed to contest; in the election that follows, with fresh candidates and with a Nota button, only that candidate should be declared elected who gets at least 50 per cent+1 of the votes cast; if even in this round the “none of the above” option gets the highest number of votes cast, or if none of the candidates gets at least 50 per cent+1 of the votes cast, then there should be a run-off between the two top candidates. The above may appear to be somewhat complicated, but the law commission recommended this as far back as 1999 in its 170th report. It was also prescient enough to say that the whole process will become much easier “if electronic voting machines are introduced throughout the country.”

The writer is former Chief Election Commissioner
It’ll lead to confusion
Navin Chawla

I welcome this judgment on “none of the above” (NOTA). For several years the Election Commission has been writing to the government about introducing the Nota button on electronic voting machine (EVM), to ensure secrecy. The Supreme Court’s directive has made this a reality. This is a step in the right direction.
Rule 49(O) of the Representation of the People Act already allows any dissenter to fill in form 17(A) to register his or her protest against all candidates. But there was no secrecy. In urban areas, secrecy doesn’t matter but in rural areas it does. In the aftermath of the judgment, it is possible that many people might prefer to exercise the Nota option as the earlier the 17(A) register was cumbersome.
At present, under the Representation of the People Act, the returning officer is duty-bound to declare the candidate who secures the maximum number of votes as the winner. Nota is not a candidate. People have asked me whether there will be a re-poll if Nota secures more votes than any candidate. Under the present law there can be no re-poll. This issue would have to go back to Parliament.
There are other difficulties that might also arise. For instance, in Naxalite-dominated areas people could be forced to exercise the Nota option. They could be coerced into pressing the Nota button by those who are ideologically opposed to democracy. This is an issue that needs to be carefully debated and discussed.
In case there is a debate in the event of Nota securing more votes than the top-candidate, there are complex issues that have to be considered: How many times will elections be held if Nota is always more than the dominant candidate? How long will the Election Commission keep the model code of conduct (MCC) in operation? If a candidate is defeated by Nota, can he or she contest again? If so, after what duration? But at this point let’s not look beyond the apex court’s verdict. Let’s wait and watch and see how our polity takes a call on the matter.
Last night I took an informal poll by asking five young people what their reaction to the Nota judgment was. Two of them said that they welcomed it and would be prepared to take their place in the voters’ line to exercise this option. Two others said that it would make no difference to them because if they did not like any of the candidates, they would simply not bother going to the polling station. The fifth was undecided and said if everyone pressed the Nota button it would be a step against democracy. All five hoped that the option could be made available for the forthcoming Assembly elections in Delhi.

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