Thursday, August 27, 2009

Agenda for empowering the voters for strengthening of Indian Democracy

We are all witness to the specter of candidates with criminal background fighting one election after another and this holds true for all political parties. The voter is unable to exercise an effective choice in this scenario. Candidates with clean background, by very nature, are not expected to match the money and muscle power of such candidates, and thus will not feel motivated enough to come forward to give such elements a fight. The voter is left bewildered to elect one so called “less bad candidate” or “the best of all in list”. While theoretically it can be said to be a democratic election as any one “first past the post”, will be declared the winner and he will claim to represent the majority, in effect it is actually the one who just gets a small percentage of enblock votes, and he gets declared winner. In this scenario the candidates feel it beneficial to further polarize the electorate and thus actually lead to further social division of the nation. This story has been repeated enough number of times since independence to need any further proof. It is time some thing different is tried, by way of actually empowering the voter where a vote becomes powerful and acts either a “Positive vote for winner” or a “negative vote for all candidates in the fray”, and thus may force political parties to select good candidates and may also effectively lead to the ideal of two party system. One possible solution to address a large number of ills of present system, can be the implementation of following items as a package. 1) For any election in any constituency, for Loksabha as well as State Legislatures, to be valid, it should be laid down by law that at least 65%+1 of the voters in that constituency should have voted. This figure of 65%+1 is as per average voting experienced in our country so far. However this can be fixed at some other level also but not less than 50%+1 in any case for any constituency, so as to ensure representative character of the elected representatives. In due course, this minimum percentage can be increased further as per experience. If the specified percentage is not achieved, the voting in that constituency be declared null and void and be held again. This measure will ensure that all candidates are motivated to draw more and more voters to the polling booth and tendency to prevent certain weaker sections from exercising franchise, is curtailed. This will make voter also realize the power of vote and therefore act as motivator to go to polling booth. 2) For any candidate to be declared winner, he should have secured at least 50%+1 of the votes actually polled. If this is not achieved, there should be second round of voting in that constituency. In this second round, candidates who secured less than certain percentage of votes in the first round, should be deleted from the ballot paper or EVM list. If this second round also does not yield a winner, as per criteria laid down herein above, there should be a third round and so on, till a clear winner emerges. This cutoff percentage can be fixed as 3-5% to start with, the idea being to take out the non-representative or dummy candidates from the fray, who are normally always put up by interested parties to act as vote dividers on caste/religious considerations. 3) Every ballot paper at all stages i.e. 1st round or 2nd round and so on, shall have one last candidate defined as “None of the Above”, with a further provisio that if “None of the above”, wins by following the system given at para 1 and 2 above, all the listed candidates of all parties, in the fray at that stage, shall stand debarred for fighting any election from any where in the entire country for any of the houses, for at least next 10 years. This provisio will instill a sense of seriousness amongst political parties, as well as candidates including independents, and is further expected to force parties to select good candidates in the first instance. This provisio will force the parties not to field candidate with criminal background as public has a fair idea of mafia elements, irrespective of their actual punishment status by courts of law, and is not likely to vote for them. And if all parties select mafia elements only as their candidate, which is perhaps a practical necessity in present system as parties are likely to match the resources of their opponents, all such candidates are likely to be rejected as voters may choose “None of the above” and by this process debar all such elements for next ten years. And in case there is one candidate who still dares to stand in front of mafia, public may as well elect him also. 4) Another thing to be appreciated is that the advent of EVM, has robbed the voter of a right of “not voting for any one” as earlier he could mark at more than one place and thus invalidate his vote and also keep his identity secret. Now however this is not possible as he has to either select some one or not vote at all. If he wants to ensure that his vote is not misused, he has to declare his identity at the polling booth as law demands certain forms to be filled up etc, and thus all candidates will know of the same and voter’s personal safety may be endangered. The choice of “None of above” in EVM, will restore the rights that voter had earlier, as he will be able to keep his identity secret and also ensure that his vote is not misused. This right must be restored. It is strongly felt that if “None of above” wins in some constituency, it is a clear indication that the voter has expressed his lack of confidence in all candidates in fray and in that event there should be a cost attached for such candidates, as a system improvement effort in the long run and therefore the suggestion of debarment. 5) It is providence that one of the above components “None of above”, is at present before Hon’ble Supreme Court of India as a follow up of a PIL, to give voter a real choice of election or rejection. 6) It should also be laid down that one candidate should be allowed to stand from one constituency only, in one election. Fighting from two constituencies does not serve any purpose as election may be required to be held once again in at least one of these constituencies, if he wins from both. This will also help the candidates to concentrate on one constituency and nurture it for next election and will also avoid infructuous expenditure. 7) The entire election expenditure of a candidate either by him personally or by his friends or by his political party, should count towards election expenditure. This process is also required to be made transparent and free of money power. Towards this objective one suggestion is as given herein. The candidates and parties should be debarred to fund their election effort. This expenditure should be required to be funded by Govt : Central Govt for Loksabha and State Govts for their State Legislatures. All political parties shall be required to be registered with election commission to enable them to be allotted funds out of this kitty. Certain percentage of taxes collected by Central Govt be earmarked to this fund for Loksabha Election. Similarly certain percentage of State Taxes collected by State Govt be earmarked to this fund for State Legislature elections. Political parties desirous of seeking funds from Govt shall also have to subject themselves to holding of internal elections by Election Commission at fixed regular intervals. The share of each political party in this election kitty can be decided based on share of country wide or State vide, votes secured by them in the first round in last election. The parties should be free to spend this total amount in as many constituencies as they feel like and ration it for as many rounds as elections are required to be held. This will force parties to do effective electioneering. This however poses certain difficulty for independent candidates. However it needs to be realized that in parliamentary democracy independents candidates are actually unable to play an effective role in good governance and as such are to be discouraged in the long run. But to give a fair deal certain scheme can be worked out for them also for funding. This aspect needs further thought to prevent misuse, as independent candidates may simply stand to receive Govt funds. Once political parties get Govt funds, their accounts shall also be audited and they shall be forced to maintain proper accounts. This provisio is expected to help reduce money power in elections and also improve internal democracy in parties. It needs to be appreciated that parties who do not hold internal elections, are intrinsically opposed to democracy within the party and thus by implication cannot be expected to “actually” implement democracy in the country in real sense of the word. 8) All candidates are already required to give declaration of their assets, pending cases etc while filing for nomination. The election commission should advertise these statements in specified formats, in local news papers of that constituency, as an effective effort to educate voters under the heading “know your candidates”, for them to be able to exercise an informed choice. 9) The above may lead to a longer election for the first time after implementation, but will lead to qualitative improvement in the next election and onwards. The elected candidates will really be representing majority of voters. Any candidate to be elected, has to necessarily think and promote cause of society at large rather than working for caste combinations, which is the governing criteria at present. 10) The above measures are actually an effort for empowering the voters and as such political parties who all swear to want to serve “common man” and “the cause of democracy”, should find the same acceptable. In case the political parties oppose these measures on the plea of “long elections in many rounds”, “ a burden on poor people” and so on, it should be clear that all these arguments shall be just a ruse to perpetuate the present system where every thing is done in the name of “poor people or common man”, but it is this “common man” who actually does not count at the point of delivery and is the worst sufferer.