Describing Gujarat’s move on compulsory voting as not ‘practical’ to all of India, the Election Commission has said that it is watching the situation ‘with interest’.
“The issue of compulsory voting has multiple dimensions, and it’s for Parliament to legislate on this. As for the Election Commission, we think it’s not practical to enforce 815 million-odd voters in a country as large as ours to compulsorily vote. Having said that, we would watch the Gujarat initiative with interest,” Chief Election Commissioner Navin B Chawla was quoted as saying by a national daily.
On Saturday, Gujarat Assembly passed the Gujarat Local Authorities Law (Amendement) Bill 2009 and chief minister Narendra Modi said that the objective behind the move was to ‘bring the voter rather than the political party to centrestage, and to strengthen democracy.
Former advisor to the Election Commission KJ Rao said that compulsory voting ‘is a welcome idea, but it remains to be seen how it is implemented.
Modi had said that ‘similar legislations had been adopted in as many as 32 countries. However, Rao said, “it is only in 19 out of these 32 countries that it was actually enforced, and only some of them like Belgium had provisions for punitive action for a voter’s failure to cast his vote.”
“There’s a view that voting is a civic right, rather than a civic duty. Voter awareness drives are far more desirable,” Rao said.
According to EC officials, turnouts like 60 per cent in Naxal-hit Jharkhand and over 70 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh were “pointers to healthy democracy in India”.
On Sunday, Modi’s idea found qualified support in BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. Non-BJP parties like the Congress, and CPM have argued that forcible voting is anti-democratic.
The voters’ choice to reject all candidates – the so-called ‘none-of the-above option’ – may, however, be a reality soon. An EC proposal to include this option in electronic voting machines is before the Parliamentary Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice. Gujarat too has emphasised on this option in its new law.