Rajya Sabha TV – Big Picture – 16 March 2021 – Strengthening of NOTA
Strengthening of NOTA
Why in News?
8 years after giving voters the option to use NOTA that is none of the above option in the polls the supreme court has sought responses from the center and election commission on whether it would be legally permissible to reject all candidates if NOTA votes exceeded that of the candidate securing the highest number of votes.
- A plea in Supreme Court seeks to direct the poll panel to nullify an election result and conduct a fresh poll if the maximum votes are for none of the above in a particular constituency.
- The Petition says that the right to reject and elect a new candidate will give power to the people to express their discontent and if the voters are dissatisfied by the background or performance of the contesting candidate, they will opt for NOTA to reject such candidate and then elect a new one.
- The contesting candidates rejected in the nullified elections shall not be allowed to participate in the fresh election.
- Checking of increasing percentage of candidates with criminal background is one of the objectives cited in 2013 order by the supreme court as well to ensure that political parties choose their candidates responsibly so they may serve the people in a proper way as democracy needs it.
- Thus, the petitioner believes that it will help check the steadily rising percentage of candidates with criminal antecedents and also their chances of winning.
- By far NOTA did not have any worthwhile impact but a difference be made if NOTA is strengthened.
- Chief Justice responded on plea by saying that in Indian electoral system such a move could be counterproductive because many seats in the parliament and assemblies could go vacant and constituencies could go unrepresented for a long time.
Why cannot the elections be nullified if NOTA wins?
- Rule 64 of Conduct of election rules says that the returning of assertial declare a candidate, who secures the maximum number of votes as elected and NOTA is not a candidate so if NOTA even gets highest no. of votes cannot be get elected or election cannot be nullified. Unless this rule is amended there is no option of having re-election because NOTA has got maximum number of votes.
What can be done?
- If NOTA has certain no. of votes and if there are 10 candidates who secure less no. of votes then candidates can be disqualified for a period of 6 years to give a message to political parties to field good candidates who are not rejected in this manner by the electing people.
- Under conduct of election rules and RPA Act 1951 in case a no. of parties which field candidates who fail to secure equal or more votes than NOTA then as a penalty parties can be asked to fund the fresh poll if it is required. This is to be done because public cannot be punished for the mistake or wrong doing of some other stakeholder.
- The purpose of bringing of NOTA was to decriminalize politics and also to ensure that political parties while selecting their candidates be more responsible. But presently NOTA is useful only for giving total secrecy to voters.
Why NOTA is exempted from voting power?
- In 2014, only 1.11 % of total electoral rate was under NOTA, in 2019 it decreased to 1.08 %. This percentage is insignificant somehow. There is no provision that if NOTA is opted by majority there will be no consequence or backlashing from political parties and therefore this number is not high.
- In case there is a change in law by parliament there might be some motivation among the people to press NOTA more no. of times.
How de-criminalization of elections can be done?
- Intervention of supreme court is required with a judge made law.
- Some laws are already in function like a law in which the candidates who have been convicted cannot contest elections for 6 years which have deterred political parties.
- According to the Right to quality, if there is an ongoing case against the person who is not convicted by the court then he or she cannot be prevented from contesting elections. There may also be a false case against the person and that becomes a grey area. Therefore, the selection of a clean candidate must be left to political parties and their wisdom. Winnability is the most important factor in elections and political parties require candidates who can win. in view of laws a convicted candidate cannot contest elections.
- Good candidates need to contest elections because it is not about choosing a perfect candidate but a best candidate among the choices one has. Since fair and just people are not coming out to contest elections, therefore the surrounding laws that exist today have forced the political parties to come out with clean candidates.
- If a candidate who wins is convicted by law s/he has to loose a seat in assembly or parliament however a trial can be done at grassroot level of democracy. Panchayat elections can be tried for this trial and error exercise. This exercise cannot be done directly in assemblies and parliament. Otherwise it can be counterproductive and many seats can go vacant and it can affect the formation of government.
- The exercise must be started at lowest level first to test the reaction of people and challenges it throws and once it passes the test at lowest level it can be slowly implemented at the higher levels.
- Reforms must be made to stop the abuse of money by sealing party expenditure. The law is already functional by Supreme Court that a candidate has to show all his/her criminal antecedents and to publish in local media so that people must be aware. For eg. In one instance all the criminal records of candidates are put on polling booth for the purpose of transparency.
Is the right to contest elections of candidates curtailed?
- Constitution gives guarantee to right to equality.
- Citizens will and mandate becomes supreme in democracy and constitution speaks of will of the people at local, state or national level. Once that will has been expressed by people that can take care of fundamental rights because in the first instance candidate were given right to contest the elections therefore the right to equality was not questioned. If people have given their verdict though NOTA then the second step of right to equality cannot be claimed because that has already been taken care by the will of the people in which they have expressed their displeasure by voting NOTA. Candidate was given opportunity to get elected and elections were contested and when people rejected the candidate, then under the law s/he has been disqualified .
- There is a need to empower NOTA but also the fundamental rights of everyone including candidate and people must be taken care of, which is in the best interest of democracy.