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Negative voting is a negative idea

G V L Narasimha Rao, Economic Times

Negative voting refers to rejecting all the candidates in an election instead of choosing any of the contesting candidates. If the number of negative votes is higher than that secured by any contesting candidate or is beyond a prescribed level, a fresh election shall be conducted and that too with the earlier candidates not being allowed to contest again. Those in favour of this proposal argue that it has the potential to encourage political parties to field better candidates in elections.

The idea is ill-conceived and flawed. Firstly, candidates win our elections mostly on a minority vote with less than 50% of the voters voting in their favour. As voter participation in national elections is under 60 %, our elected representatives are often chosen by less than 1/3rd of the total eligible voter population. If negative voting is introduced, the legitimacy of elected candidates would further be reduced. Second, we already have too many elections — national, state, by-elections, local ones, etc. — happening too frequently.

Conducting elections due to rejection of candidates will only add to this list and further escalate costs. The EC may be happy to conduct elections all the time but the country and people cannot afford this. Third, there is no restriction on any good candidate from contesting elections. Parties will continue to field ‘bad’ candidates as long as people elect them. Voter education to ensure better electoral participation by urban, educated voters and on the need to elect candidates with a clean record will yield positive results. Similarly, legal provisions shall be strengthened debarring candidates with a corrupt and criminal record from contesting elections.

Negative voting is a negative idea that has the potential to derail our electoral democracy rather than strengthen it. Implementing the idea will only be a pyrrhic victory for activists raising negative demands rather than providing viable solutions to the myriad problems requiring urgent attention. The matter is pending before the constitution bench of the Supreme Court and it would be wise to wait for its verdict.

This article has been earlier published in Economic Times

Negative Voting is a Negative Idea

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