Meeting of a Delegation of Civil Society Members with the Commission Regarding Electoral Reforms

Posted in ELECTION LAW by NNLRJ INDIA on November 1, 2011

A delegation comprising Shri Shanti Bhushan, Shri Prashant Bhushan, Shri Arvind Kejriwal, Shri Manish Sisodia and Ms. Kiran Bedi met the Commission on 31st October, 2011. There was exchange of views on various issues, particularly on electoral reforms. The delegation made several suggestions including those relating to ‘Right to Recall, ‘Right to Reject’, checking corruption in electoral process, preventing criminalization of politics and strengthening of electoral system. The Chief Election Commissioner Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, Election Commissioners Sh. V.S. Sampath and Sh. H.S. Brahma and the senior officers of the Commission responded to the suggestions made by the delegation. There was complete unanimity about the need to end corruption from public life, especially elections.

Dr. Quraishi informed the delegation about various proposals of electoral reforms submitted by the Commission to the Government, from time to time. He also informed them about the recent country-wide consultations on electoral reforms, taken up jointly by the Election Commission of India and the Ministry of Law & Justice. Seven Regional Consultations have already been held in the last about 1 year and an all party meeting was now awaited. The CEC also shared with the delegation the latest developments in the area of speeding up of the proposed reforms. He also briefed them about various administrative and regulatory measures taken by the Commission in the recent months to check corruption, improve transparency and increase peoples’ participation in elections.

The suggestion about the ‘Right to Recall’ was discussed in detail. CEC explained various implications involved in the implementation of the suggestion, like, the minimum percentage of voters who may file the petition for recall, verification of authenticity of thousands of signatures and whether those signatures have been given voluntarily or under coercion, minimum time after which such petition for recall could be presented, the further exercise of calling for a referendum in the constituency and the holding of a subsequent election where the petition succeeds. He also mentioned that such a move would bring instability as the losers could start such a campaign from the day one. He further pointed out that this would also hamper development activities because of frequent elections and imposition of Model Code of Conduct too often. The delegation agreed that the matter needed to be further examined by them keeping all the above implications in mind.

The ‘Right to Reject’ issue was discussed in detail. The Commission informed the delegation that it had already proposed to the Government in December 2001 to make a suitable provision in the rules to introduce a button in the balloting unit of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) so that electors could exercise ‘none of the above’ option. The ‘Right to Reject’ will however require an amendment in the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The Commission pointed out that ‘Right to Reject’ may lead to more frequent elections. The delegation was however of the opinion that the ‘Right to Reject’ will not lead to more frequent elections as it will act as a deterrent on the Political Parties to sponsor more worthy candidates and will also help in curbing muscle and money power. CEC observed that the demand for ‘Right to Reject’ would only have an impact if the voting percentages were really high. What is the use of exercising this right if half of the voters do not turn up for voting? The Commission mentioned that the matter is also before the Supreme Court.

The CEC requested civil society groups to extend support to the ongoing positive efforts of the Commission to enhance voters’ participation in elections and strengthen democracy. The delegates assured the Commission that they would campaign for higher public participation in electoral process

The delegation expressed concern over the growing criminalization of politics. The Commission informed them that a proposal for debarring candidates, against whom charges have been framed by the Court of law for heinous crimes, from contesting elections has already been sent to the Government way back in 1998 and the same is at an advanced stage of consideration by the Government. They were of the view that if the ‘Right to Reject’ was provided for in the law, then it would also have a salutary effect on the political parties.

There were discussions on several other issues including state funding of elections, paid news and other reform proposals. The delegates requested for a complete brief on the latest set of electoral reforms proposals. The Commission handed over a written brief on the matter to the delegation. The meeting was extremely cordial and positive.

Election Commission of India
New Delhi, 01th November, 2011

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