NOTA and its growing relevance

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Around 11 lakh people of Manipur are eligible to exercise their right to adult franchise in the first phase of the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly election scheduled on March 4. Altogether 168 candidates including seven women would be vying for 38 Assembly seats. Out of these 11 lakh people or so, how many people would go to their respective polling stations and cast their votes with a sense of enthusiasm is any one’s guess. Nonetheless, the poll percentage, as usual, is expected to be above 90 per cent. This is inclusive of proxy voting which has been a phenomenon across the country for quite a long period of time. Of course, the Election Commission of India has been working hard to check proxy voting. But it would be too farfetched to claim that proxy voting has been done away with. No doubt, poll percentage is always high in Manipur. Yet, many observers are of the opinion that the poll percentage would have been lower had there been no coercion, prodding, intimidation and of course proxy voting. In another word, the number of people who turned out to exercise their right to adult franchise on their own free will was much lower than the official turnout figures. On the other hand, the number of people who chooses to sit out of the polling process is growing every year. A large number of the electorates either don’t have any faith in their candidates or they are totally disappointed with their prospective representatives. Having said this, we are not undermining the process of election in a republic. In fact, the whole idea of republic or for that matter democracy hinges on election. Just as much as it is crucial to exercise one’s right to adult franchise in a republic, the question, “Whom shall I vote for when I don’t have faith in any of the candidates?” deserves serious introspection. To many electorates, elections are like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea or it is more about choosing a lesser devil. This was a reality until the idea of NOTA (None of the Above) was introduced in the Indian electoral system.

The specific symbol for NOTA, a ballot paper with a black cross across it, was first introduced on September 18, 2015. Since then it has been incorporated into Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Yet, NOTA still remains a symbolic option in the sense that any number of votes NOTA receives does not affect election results. Even if NOTA receives majority of votes, the candidate who gets the next highest votes would be declared elected. Even though NOTA does not change the final election results in any manner, it gives an option to express voters’ dissatisfaction and rejection. A voter who is disillusioned with all the contesting candidates gets a sense of gratification by opting for NOTA. A bench of the Supreme Court headed by then Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam once remarked, “Negative voting will lead to a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates. If the right to vote is a statutory right, then the right to reject a candidate is a fundamental right of speech and expression under the Constitution.” Even if the number of votes cast in favour of NOTA does not have any bearing on election results, it certainly raises a moral question. Just imagine a hypothetical situation of a candidate winning election by securing 40 per cent less votes than the NOTA votes. One will surely question whether the candidate is really mandated by majority of electorates. Herein lies the significance of the option for NOTA. If one goes by this logic, the People’s Campaign for Resurgent Manipur (PCRM) has some very valid points. Some people even commented that if NOTA votes are above 50 per cent of the total votes polled, the particular election should be cancelled and a fresh one should be notified. Here we would like to add that if the citizens’ disillusionment lies in the system, the same system needs to be re-structured or overhauled.

Source: The Sangai Express

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