Indian SC for 'no' vote provision
In a landmark ruling, India's Supreme Court yesterday said voters have the right to reject all candidates contesting polls.
A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam asked the Election Commission to change the ballots for electronic voting machine to give voters a choice of "none of the above" from among the candidates.
"Democracy is all about choices and voters will be empowered by this right of negative voting," he said, ruling on a petition by the non-profit People's Union for Civil Liberties.
"Negative voting will send a clear signal to political parties and candidates as to what the voters think about them", the bench said.
Voters so far have no right to reject candidates despite demands from social activists to create such a provision.
The court noted that at least 13 other countries followed the practice of "electronic abstention".
Negative voting had been in effect for the 2008 general elections in Bangladesh, but in 2009, the Awami League government annulled it.
The right to reject the choices will "foster purity in electoral politics", Sathasivam said.
Fresh parliamentary elections are due in India by May 2014.
Veteran anti-graft activist and Gandhian Anna Hazare, who had led a countrywide street campaign against corruption by going on a hunger strike two years ago, has been a votary of the right to reject candidates as well as recall an elected representative on the grounds of unsatisfactory performance.
The verdict, however, appeared to raise questions over what happens if a majority of electorate in a constituency vote negatively.
Election Commission sources said though the electoral law on the issue is silent, the new 'none of the above' option may virtually amount to an invalid vote and those getting the highest votes among the candidates will be declared winner.
The apex court said there is a "dire need" of negative voting which will bring "systemic change" in the election process as "the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people" and field clean candidates when a large number of people express their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them.
It said casting of the vote is a facet of the right of expression of an individual and the said right is provided under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and "not allowing a person to cast vote negatively defeats the very freedom of expression and the right ensured in Article 21 i.e., the right to liberty".
While ruling Congress and main opposition BJP reacted cautiously to the verdict, CPI(M) said it had created an "abnormal situation" that needed to be corrected.
The apex court said negative voting would accelerate effective political participation of people and would "foster the purity of the electoral process" and "it serves a very fundamental and essential part of a vibrant democracy".
"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' button, which will indeed compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate. This situation palpably tells us the dire need of negative voting," the bench said in its 50-page verdict.