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Transforming electoral right as duty

Transforming electoral right as duty
Highlights

The idea of making voting in public elections compulsory has become a subject of debate following the adoption of the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act a few weeks back.

The idea of making voting in public elections compulsory has become a subject of debate following the adoption of the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act a few weeks back. It introduces “obligation to vote” at the municipal corporation, municipality, and panchayat level elections in the State.

A seemingly harmless legislation, it is one with immense political implications requiring enormous administrative arrangements. In fact, Gujarat Assembly had twice earlier passed the bill making voting compulsory. But these failed to get the Governor’s assent and were returned. It seems to be a pet idea of some politicians.

Two separate bills to make voting compulsory have since been introduced in the Lok Sabha as Private Members’ Business by two BJP members – Varun Gandhi and Janardhan Singh Sigriwal.

This is not the first time that Parliament is seized with this subject. In 2004 and 2009, similar Private Member’s Bills were introduced in the Lok Sabha. These faced several objections and couldn’t be passed. The then Law Minister held that voting for political institutions should be voluntary.

There are many people who frown at the idea as something fanciful and not worthy of consideration. Perhaps they are unaware that compulsory voting is not any innovative idea of Indian politicians or political pundits, but a practice in vogue in some countries across continents. The question before us is to examine the necessity, constitutionality, meaning, and practicability of making voting compulsory in India.

Presently, 22 countries have adopted laws making voting compulsory. Of these, 11 are enforcing the law which also contains penal provisions for non-voting without valid reasons. These 11 include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cyprus, Ecuador, Luxembourg, Nauru, Peru, Singapore, Uruguay, and Schaffhausen canton in Switzerland. Population- wise and size-wise (except Australia), all of them are small. This is not a coincidence, but a lesson that smaller size of the area makes the law workable.

Some countries, including Italy, the Netherlands, Chile, Fiji, Venezuela, which passed laws introducing compulsory voting have later abolished it or do not enforce it.

In 2014 Parliament elections, the votes polled was 66.40 per cent. Union territories have performed better than bigger States. Nagaland, Lakshadweep, Dadra Nagar Haveli, and Puducherry recorded over 80 per cent voting. The cases of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh two need special mention as these are political hotbeds of active political parties fiercely high voter turnout is said to increase the legitimacy and stability of the political system.

Low polling raises the question of legitimacy of the government formed by the winning party/alliance. It is found that compulsory voting increases voter turnout in elections. Voting is presently a right in India as elsewhere. Legal compulsion to vote is no substitute for voluntary political motivation. by political parties and interest groups.
Compulsion is no answer to any of these problems. Transforming the right to vote as a duty is not a simple political decision. Our right to vote also includes our right not to vote.

By: Dr S Saraswathi

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