3 R's: Recall, Reject, Return

By Prabhakar Timble
07 September 2011 09:03 IST

A feeling of hopelessness, oscillating between frustration and anger at the conduct and performance of some of our elected representatives in parliament and state assemblies is generating a demand for the right to recall. Further, the choice of candidates provided to the citizens for voting, their background and antecedents, their questionable rise in politics and their meteoric purchasing power has stirred up the need for the right to reject.

To my mind, more than the right to reject i.e. negative voting and the right to recall i.e. post-election eraser, we need to accord high priority to the electoral reforms directly connected to strengthen the right to elect i.e. positive voting resulting in the return of representatives with calibre, character and commitment to the constitutional vision.

Recall may be ineffective

The right to recall an elected representative before the completion of the term of office is present in very few democracies namely U.S.A., Switzerland, Philippines, Venezuela and British Columbia. The practical experience does not provide assurance in favour of the efficacy of this tool to reform the system. The success rate of the attempts to unseat an elected representative is in the range of 0 to 1%. On the assets side, it looks that the right to recall gives a power to the electorate to make the representative responsive and accountable. It is said that such a right will ensure at least minimum standards of behaviour. The actual implementation of the right to recall has shown that it is difficult to muster the required number of signatures before the appropriate authority to conduct the snap poll either of recall or a fresh bye-election. In situations, where the bar of signatures is achieved, it is mostly found that the member sought to be unseated has retained the seat or the new member has not been much different from the earlier one. In some cases, it has been an organised campaign to settle political scores mainly by the defeated candidate.

Any proposed legislation for recall will have to provide for the issues and specific grounds under which a recall could be demanded. It just cannot be because it is the belief of some civil society members. The next question is that, if the power is to be vested in the people, the percentage of signatories to the recall petition has to be determined. In Canada, the requirement is 40% of the registered voters, Venezuela has put the minimum limit at 20%, in USA it is different for different States, and Philippines peg it at 15%. Britain has still not enacted any law in this regard. However, it is a part of the election manifesto of Conservative Party. There will have to be safeguards in the legislation to ensure that the right to recall is not misused as an erasing fluid to re-write the genuine results of a regular election.  Hence, there is a need for a lock-in period to disallow proposals of recall.

The State of Chhattisgarh has provided for the right to recall in municipal bodies under the Chhattisgarh Nagarpalika (Recall of President) Act. Critics point out that in such small governing bodies; such provisions are largely used to settle political scores rather than enforcing accountability of non-performing representatives.

Are the voters the sole arbiters for a recall poll? Or should the law providing for such a right provide for an authority like the Election Commission to judge on the application for a re-call providing natural justice to the elected representative sought to be “impeached” by the civil society? Added to all this, we should also examine whether such an extra and costly apparatus created with the avowed objective of empowering citizens will give the required results in democracy or generate only the heat that democracy is deepened. In our bid to restore the will of the people and accountability on the part of the elected representatives are we creating an enlarged shadow and losing the substance?

Reject is clear and without hassles

As far as the right to reject the contesting candidates are concerned, the proposal has been mooted by the Election Commission of India as well as the Law Commission of India. The issue is also pending before the Supreme Court in a petition filed by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties in 2001. The core committee on Electoral Reforms (Ministry of Law & Justice, Govt. of India, 2010) has made a clear recommendation in view of the criminalisation of politics, widespread corruption in the system and use of violence, voter intimidation resulting in no desirable candidates within those contesting election in a particular constituency. The proposal is to provide a negative or neutral voting option. This allows voters to reject all of the candidates on the ballot by selection of a “none of the above” option. In such a system there could be a provision to nullify the election results if a certain percentage of the vote is negative or neutral.

The right to reject could be a hassle free, clear-cut and less costly arm of electoral reform as opposed to the right to recall. This could be resorted to even if the contesting candidate in a particular constituency is single and does not face a competitor because there cannot be a thing like “elected unopposed” if the voters have the right to reject.

Strengthen right to Return

It is true that our elected representatives though chosen by the people do not represent them in legislative bodies. A large segment of the so claimed educated voters do not enter the election booths because they feel that their hands will be soiled for voting criminals, religious fanatics and spinners of money and muscle. Despite this, I would prefer electoral reforms which openly reinforce and build up the right of citizen to choose, elect and return the candidate without fear or favour. The right to reject is one such direct electoral reform. The right to recall is in its infancy, cost intensive, wasteful and less effective tool. It is still not adopted by many democratic societies.

Political parties and particularly with national standing should stop behaving like petty regional outfits in the selection of their contesting candidates. There may be a marginal progressive change in this if the Conduct of Election Rules (1961) is appropriately amended to provide for the right to reject. Our voting revolves around 58%. The voters would contribute to reforms in elections with a much larger turnout. The male contestants are always around 92%. Political parties can make the welcome difference to reforms in the allotment of their tickets to women candidates without waiting for the Women’s Reservation Act. If the government and the major political parties accept and implement the electoral reforms agenda enunciated by the Election Commission of India, we may see a salutary change in the election process and outcome.

 

Blogger's Profile

Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

Very well written and informative. Truly, electoral reforms are the need of the hour. Many a times, we tend to blame the electorate for having elected 'such' representatives. But mostly, the electorate hardly had a choice. It was like saying "Choose any colour as long as it is white."

But the Right to Reject and Recall will certainly give the voters a bigger say, and dare I say with more power to the people; we will also see a substantial increase in voter turnout. The Right to Recall has not met with any credible success till date, but yes, the modalities of it can still be debated and we can try to develop an effective method of recalling an elected representative if he/she does not perform. How it can be effectively achieved is still open to debate.

The Right to Reject in itself is very powerful and should be implemented. Apart from these, we need to debar people with criminal background from contesting polls. Such legislation should be enacted at the earliest. Lately, it seems that the political parties across the divide have realised that such elements turn to be more of a 'liability' rather than an 'asset'. They become the mythological "bhasmasur" over a period of time.

The civil society needs to undertake a consistent campaign to get these long overdue electoral reforms enacted and implemented.

The sooner ... the better !!!

- Ameya Ashok Kamat, Curchorem | 07 th September 2011 14:08

 

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