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Compulsory voting : How far is it feasible?

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By Dr. Munish Kumar Raizada

In November last year, Gujarat became the first Indian state to pass a bill making voting in the local body elections compulsory. With O.P. Kohli as the new Governor in office, the Bill managed to get the Governor’s assent in the third attempt. Even though the Bill was passed by Gujarat legislative assembly as early as 2009, Kamla Beniwal had rejected it twice during her tenure as the Governor of Gujarat, drawing sharp reactions from many quarters. Now with elections to as many as 315 local self-governments due in October this year, the state Government is likely to notify this bill (hence, making into a law) just well in time.

A number of experts doubt the constitutional validity of compulsory voting and consider it a violation of the Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees personal liberty. On the other hand, the supporters of this legislation point out that people can still have their personal liberty by choosing to vote for NOTA (None of The Above) and rejecting all the candidates. Kapoor Committee – set up by Gujarat state government – did invite suggestions from the public on the magnitude of penalty or punishment for those evading voting. However, we shall have to wait on the exact quantum of punishment as spelled out in the law.

Where else is this provision?

Presently, approximately 26 countries in the world enforce compulsory voting in one way or the other. The major nations among these include Argentina, Brazil, Singapore and Australia. Notwithstanding their national laws which make ‘not voting’ a punishable offence, most of these countries haven’t been able to enforce the punishments effectively. Some of these nations, such as Australia and Brazil, accept valid reasons, such as sickness or non-availability, for skipping to vote. In Brazil, failing to vote would debar you from getting a passport, whereas in Bolivia, you won’t be able to withdraw your salary from the Bank for a period of 3 months, if you fail to vote!

vote-661888_640According to many experts, a considerably low voter turnout in the local elections was the key driving force behind the introduction of this law in Gujarat. Arguing that the local elections don’t arouse much interest in the public, the experts say that a law will help the people make use of their constitutional privilege. Interestingly, it would be incorrect to assume that we are alone in this regard. The 2014 midterm elections in the USA saw the lowest voter turnout in 72 years! Only 36.4% of the eligible voters came out to cast their vote, as compared to the 40.9% turnout in the 2010 midterm elections.

The advocates of compulsory voting argue that as a non-voter, you lose the right to criticize the government and its policies since you didn’t have any part to play in its formation at the first place. On the contrary, rather than remaining a neutral voter, your no-show at the elections effectively converts you into a negative vote. As LK Advani once remarked: “Voters, who without any legitimate justification, have not been exercising the valuable right of franchise the Indian Constitution has conferred on them have, unwittingly thus, been casting a negative vote against all the contesting candidates without intending to do so.”

Is the idea really feasible?

In all probabilities, the Kapoor committee would recommend a nominal fine for the law violators. But taking into account the huge demography of the country, collection of such fines would be a tedious task to say the least. The last thing you would want is to spend more in collecting fines than the amount of fine itself!

Human behaviour forces us to repel anything which is made ‘compulsory’ for us. In Brazil, for instance, where voting is compulsory, a Rhinoceros ‘Cacareco’ won the local elections in 1959 when the people decided to utilize their compulsory voting right to protest against rampant corruption.291914817_0425f7619c_o

Incentivising a positive rather than punishing a negative has always paid rich dividends. For example, during the recent Delhi assembly elections, a number of restaurants, gyms and salons in the capital announced discounts for the customers if they showed their ‘inked finger’. While the real impact of such campaigns in boosting the voting percentage still remains to be deciphered, such ideas surely give food for thought.

The recent years have seen a steady rise in the voter turnout in all elections in the country. This is directly proportional to the rising literacy rate in the country. None would argue against the fact that voter education plays a major role in enhancing the voter turnout. The Election Commission has been organizing several events to raise awareness among the public regarding the significance of their single vote. To push the initiative even further, in 2011, the Government earmarked 25th January as the National Voters’ Day. Many celebrities have also taken up the cause of voter education in the past few years, and their efforts have showed results. Whether the clause of compulsory voting further adds to the rising political conscience of the country or does it backfire on the Government authorities, remains to be seen.

A-MK-150x150The author is a Chicago-based political commentator. This op-ed is an exclusive article in his series Musings from Chicago. You can reach out to him at e-mail ID:pedia333@gmail.com and on Twitter @drMunishRaizada.

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Catalonia Independence : Spanish PM plans to remove Catalonia’s leaders to take control

Many Catalans who want to remain in Spain will approve of this strident action. But those who want independence for their region are likely to see this as a provocation rather than a solution

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The Spanish Prime Minister said one of his aims is to restore peaceful co-existence to Catalonia by removing its leaders. VOA

Madrid, October 22, 2017 : Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has outlined plans to remove Catalonia’s leaders and take control of the separatist region.

Speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday, Rajoy stopped short of dissolving the region’s parliament but put forward plans for elections, BBC reported.

The measures must now be approved by Spain’s Senate in the next few days.

Large crowds have gathered in Barcelona to protest against direct rule from Madrid. It comes almost three weeks after Catalonia held a disputed independence referendum.

Spain’s Supreme Court had declared the vote illegal and said it violated the constitution, which describes the country as indivisible.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has ignored pleas from the national government to abandon moves towards independence.

Rajoy said the the Catalan government’s actions were “contrary to the law and seeking confrontation”. He said it was “not our wish, it was not our intention” to impose direct rule.

This will be via Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, which allows it to impose direct rule in a crisis on any of the country’s semi-autonomous regions.

Spanish law dictates that elections must be held within six months of Article 155 being triggered, but Rajoy said it was imperative that the vote be held much sooner.

Reports say that Spain’s interior ministry is preparing take control of Catalonia’s Mossos police force and remove its commander Josep Lluís Trapero, who is already facing sedition charges.

The government is also considering taking control of Catalonia’s public broadcaster TV3, El País newspaper reported.

Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras said Rajoy and his allies had “not just suspended autonomy. They have suspended democracy”.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said it was a “serious attack on the rights and freedoms of all, both here and elsewhere” and called for demonstrations.

The president of Barcelona football club, Josep Maria Bartomeu, said the club gave its “absolute support for the democratic institutions of Catalonia chosen by its people”.

But he called for any reaction to be “civil and peaceful” and said dialogue was the only way to a solution.

Eduard Rivas Mateo, spokesman for the Catalan Socialist party — which supports the Spanish government’s stance but also wants constitutional reform — said he could not accept a “harsh application” of Article 155.

ALSO READ Catalonia Protesters Demand Release of Separatist Leaders

But Ines Arrimadas, head of the centrist Ciudadanos party in Catalonia, which is against independence, said holding fresh elections would “restore goodwill and democracy” in the region.

Rajoy’s use of Article 155 had been widely anticipated, but his announcement when it came still had a huge impact. The article has never been invoked before, so there was a certain amount of mystery surrounding its potential reach and meaning.

Although Rajoy insisted that Catalonia’s self-government is not being suspended, many will disagree. The removal from office of Carles Puigdemont and all the members of his cabinet, to allow ministers in Madrid to take on their duties, amounts to a major reining in of Catalonia’s devolved powers.

The Spanish Prime Minister said one of his aims is to restore peaceful co-existence to Catalonia with these measures.

Many Catalans who want to remain in Spain will approve of this strident action. But those who want independence for their region are likely to see this as a provocation rather than a solution. (IANS)

 

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In Remote Iranian Province Sistan-Baluchistan, Women Make Gains at Ballot Box

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Iranian women cast their ballots for the presidential election at a polling station in Tehran on May 19. VOA

IRAN, May 26, 2017: Iran’s sprawling southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province is notorious for insecurity, poverty, drug trafficking, and deadly clashes between security forces and militants.

More recently, however, it made headlines this month for sweeping a record number of women onto city and village councils.

Officials say the number of women elected to local councils in the Sunni-majority province, which shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, more than doubled.

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“Four hundred and fifteen women have been elected to the city councils in the province,” Governor Ali Osat Hashemi was quoted by Iranian media as saying on May 23, up from just 185.

In one village, Afzalabad, in the district of Khash, all 10 candidates on the council ballot on May 19 were women.

The numbers remain low nationally. Of the more than 287,000 candidates registered for last week’s elections, just 6 percent were women, according to official figures.

But moderates and reformists, bolstered by the rise to power of President Hassan Rohani and their success in the 2016 parliamentary elections, have aimed at ending the tight grip of conservatives on local politics.

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Rohani, a veteran politician who has risked crossing Iran’s powerful unelected establishment with calls for modest reform inside the country and on the international scene, was reelected on May 19 with 57 percent of the vote. The victory was widely seen as a blow to political and cultural hard-liners and an expression of Iranians’ desire for interaction with the world.

“Despite having university educations, [women] don’t have freedom of speech. I want to defend them,” Esmat Irandagani told the Iranian daily Shahrvand. She said she did very little campaigning and owed her victory to the women in her village who encouraged her to run “to help them” get their handicrafts more recognition.

“I was a volunteer for the Red Crescent. I also worked one year as a reporter. Now I want to do work for the women in my village,” Irandagani said, adding that men had not successfully developed the village.

Women Taking Charge

Gains on city councils follow the appointment in recent years of more women to senior posts in the region, including as governors, mayors, and prefects.

Khash Governor Mohammad Chakerzehi credited Rohani’s administration with advancing the political role of women, saying the government in Tehran’s effort to increase the number of women in decision-making positions across the province contributed to women’s success in the city-council elections.

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“One-third of women who had registered to run were elected to city councils,” Chakerzehi said. “Many of these educated women registered to run in order to strengthen the position of women in society.”

Abdol Sattar Doshoki, a Baluchi political analyst who heads the U.K.-based Center for Baluchistan Studies, says the high-level appointments have inspired women to seek a greater role in the society. “The [city-council election] has provided Baluch women, many of whom have obtained university degrees in past years, with an opportunity to show themselves and play a role in political and social life,” Doshoki explains.

Baluch make up a majority in the province, which is said to be one of Iran’s poorest.

Doshoki says he believes that the high participation of women also helps combat discrimination in the province, which is among Iran’s poorest. “Baluchi people suffer from different types of discrimination, including ethnic discrimination, religious discrimination, and also gender discrimination, which is common for [other regions] in the country,” he says.

“In places where women stood, men and women had the power to say no to gender discrimination,” Doshoki says.

Setting An Example

Afzalabad Mayor Maryam Ahmadzehi, a woman, has been held up in local media coverage as a successful example of a woman in a senior post and, presumably, a key factor encouraging men to vote for women when they step into the voting booth. Roads have been paved, new parks have been created, and the village has been connected to the electricity grid.

“The day Ahmadzehi became mayor, the village was in ruins, but things have changed significantly since then,” a local school principal told the daily Etemad in April. “We’re satisfied with our mayor, so we reached the conclusion that women can also do good work in the council.”

The principal added that since many local men are out in the field farming or on duty guarding Iran’s border, they are happy to cede “care of the village issues” to women.

One of the female candidates for the village council in Afzalabad told Etemad that Ahmadzehi was indeed a role model. “Her efforts motivated all of us to study and work,” she said.

Across the country, initial election results suggest that reformists and moderates ousted conservatives and took control of councils in at least six major cities.

In the capital, Tehran, where all 21 seats went to reformists in this month’s vote, women doubled their presence on the city council from three to six.

The hard-line election supervisor, the Guardians Council, imposes an effective ban on women running for the Iranian presidency, but parliament vets those running for city-council seats.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently accused Iran of systemic discrimination and other obstacles in the workplace, saying Iran lags in gender equality.

Local media report that there are around 150 women in managerial positions in Sistan-Baluchistan, a province of around 2.5 million people. (RFE/RL)

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No Right to Vote for Kashmiri Pandits? Voting Difficulties to be discussed with Election Commission of India

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Kashmiri Pandits are not returning to their jobs. Wikimedia

New Delhi, May 11, 2017: A BJP delegation on Thursday apprised the Election Commission of the deletion of names of Kashmiri Pandits from the electoral roles and the cumbersome process they had to go through in exercising their right to vote.

The delegation, under the banner of Jammu and Kashmir Vikas Manch (JKVM), led by Union Ministers Jitendra Singh and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also apprised the Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi about the numerous difficulties faced by the community in exercising their right to vote in Jammu and Kashmir.

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“The M-form is a procedure under which migrant Kashmir Pandits have to repeatedly submit documents to prove that they were genuine displaced people from the Kashmir valley and intend to vote. As a result of this complicated process the number of displaced voters decreased constantly,” a statement said.

The JKVM said that the number has reached a dismal number of few thousand from around 200,000 prior to displacement.

“The decrease was progressive with only 147,000 voters left on voter list in 1996 that went further down to 117,000 in 2002 and even more disappearing from the voter list, down to 71,000 in 2008. It seems the community is being disfranchised under a design.”

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“From around 170,000 before 1989 our number is shown as 72,793 in 2008. It is showcased as an increase from 26,679 in 2002. All this is due to complicated procedure of voting that is open to manipulation by vested interests.” the statement said.

The delegation demanded a sustained campaign should be undertaken by the Commission to ensure 100 per cent registration of eligible voters.

It also demanded that the voting booths for the community should be increased to make it possible for the voters to reach there conveniently.

The delgation demanded that electoral rolls of Kashmir valley are made available to the community in English or Devnagri.

“The Commission assured that necessary steps will be taken to remove the hurdles. The CEC also promised to deploy a senior officer of Deputy Election Commissioner’s rank to oversee and work out the modalities,” the delegation said. (IANS)