Vice president favours voters' right to reject candidates

New Delhi, Jan 25 (IANS) Vice President Hamid Ansari Friday called for addressing limitations of the country's electoral system and favoured giving to voters the right to reject candidates to boost participation in the election process.

Addressing a function on the third National Voters Day here, the vice president said that though voter participation had improved due to steps taken by the Election Commission (EC), there was a need to critically examine the experience of the past six decades.

"This would show, firstly, that every citizen entitled to vote does not exercise this right, and, secondly, that the first-past-the-post system adopted by us often results in the winner obtaining less than a majority of the votes cast," Ansari said.

He said the right to vote, in terms of the democratic theory, carries with it an obligation to exercise the franchise in favour of a candidate of choice.

"A corollary of this would be the right to reject if none of the candidates on the list finds favour with the voter. Such a conscious rejection would be preferable to abstention from voting."

"The procedural modality for bringing this about can be worked out on the model of some of the democracies where it is in vogue," he said.

Referring to the first-past-the-post system, he said its limitation was evident from the factual data and the system encourages candidates to focus on securing votes of a segment of the electorate.

"In the first general election in 1952, the percentage of successful candidates who secured less than 50 percent of the votes cast was 67.28. This figure went down to 58.09 percent in 1957. In the 13th, 14th, and 15th general elections in 1999, 2004, and 2009, it was 60.03, 75.87 and 82.68, respectively," he said.

The vice president said conclusion was inescapable that a majority of elected members of the Lok Sabha in recent years, and even earlier, won on a minority of votes cast in their constituencies.

He said the situation was "no better, perhaps worse, in state assembly elections" with the percentage of returned candidates on minority of votes cast going above 70 percent in several cases.

Ansari said when this percentage is considered alongside the average voter turnout, it suggests that "the elected representative may not, often is not, representative of the electoral constituency".

"This system encourages candidates to focus on securing votes of a segment of the electorate and accentuates social divisions based on narrower considerations that derogate from inclusiveness and promote divisive tendencies and social conflict," he said.

"For a mature democracy like ours, both these limitations of our electoral system require to be addressed," he added.

Ansari said that over six decades, the EC has conducted 15 elections to the Lok Sabha and about 350 elections to state assemblies.

"The high standards set by the Election Commission in election management are now globally recognised," he said.

The vice president gave awards for best electoral practices and administered the national voter day pledge to those present in the function.

Urging people across the country to value their vote, Ansari said results of efforts of the poll panel towards voters' education have been quite visible in the last few general elections.

Speaking on the ocassion, Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath said about 2.32 crore more citizens had enrolled in the recently concluded roll revision.

He said the country's electorate now stands at 77.78 crore.

Law Minister Ashwini Kumar assured the commission all necessary support in pursuing electoral reforms.

Jan 25 is also the foundation day of the EC, which came into being in 1950. The aim of the National Voters' Day is to bring every eligible citizen on the electoral roll with primary focus on the newly eligible voter. Many of these new voters were felicitated around 650,000 locations in the country at national voters day functions.

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