Print Edition - 2017-08-22 | Oped
Not my candidate
- The right to reject all candidates during elections is essential in a participatory democracy
Aug 22, 2017-
Nepal is all set to institutionalise the democratic system, with local elections almost completed. The postponement of local elections in Province 2 to September 18, seen as a continued practice of compromise—which evidently has been a feature of post-2006 politics in Nepal—can be justified as a move to bring all parties on board.
The Election Commission has been positive about holding the next two phases of elections—the provincial and national level elections—within January 2018, as is required. The confidence of the Election Commission does deserve applause, considering that the laws regarding the elections haven’t even been formulated yet.
While we cherish our achievements, there are certain practical issues that require timely consideration. Before the Local Level Election Bill was tabled for endorsement, it was reported that the Bill would also incorporate a provision by which the voters could have the right to reject candidates. However, the clause was removed before it could be discussed in Parliament.
The voter turnout in the recent local level elections has been around 73 percent on average. Although the figures are high, many voters can be speculated to have skipped participation in elections owing to their dissatisfaction over the candidates, and as a silent protest against the political players that have clung on for decades even as the political landscape has undergone numerous changes.
Ballots and opinions
Ballots are more than just a formal state governing process; they are a medium for the demonstration of opinion or protest. The protest through ballots can be either implied, for example, when people avoid the process by non-participation or, at times expressed, for example, when during vote counting in ward 1 of Kathmandu, a handwritten ballot chit was found which wrote “right to reject and right to recall”.
Election is a corollary to any democracy. The democratic system can only be as good as the election system allows it to be. However, one particular flaw of the earlier election systems around the world was the question of not having a capable person as a candidate. It occurs when the democracy does exist de facto, but no candidate is of a high enough calibre to be a representative of people. In such a democracy, people would just have to vote for the best amongst the worst.
The merit of democracy rests on the freedom to choose between available options. On that note, it is amusing how we have failed to see the importance of the right to reject, since it stands as a preventive measure against options that aren’t good enough to represent.
The right to reject can also be expressed with other statements, such as ‘none of the above’ and ‘blank ballot’. The system basically works by making available the option to not choose any candidate. And should the votes in ‘none of the above’ be more than the votes cast for any other sign, the election would be rescheduled whereby new candidates will file for candidacy.
None of the above (Nota) has been in practice in many democracies and notably, it has been recognised in the South Asian countries of Bangladesh and India.
Nota was recognised in India by the supreme court in the case of People’s Union of Civil Liberties v Union of India, 2013 which made it compulsory for the government to include an option of Nota in the electronic voting machines (EVM). However, the election commission of India has explained in the aftermath of the decision that even if the number of electors opting for Nota is more than the number of votes attained by any other candidates, the candidate attaining the highest vote would still be declared elected.
The issue of right to reject isn’t foreign to Nepal at all. In fact, non-inclusion of such provision in laws relating to election and the Nota option on the ballot paper is against the principle laid down by the Supreme Court of Nepal in a writ of certiorari filed by Bikash Lakai Khadka in 2014. The Supreme Court recognised that the votes not cast by voters, because of discontentment against candidates, have a huge impact on election results.
Likewise, the decision states that since citizens have a right to select the candidates from political parties, they also have the right to reject them. Further, the decision acknowledges that if people do not have a right to reject the candidates in election, a legitimate government cannot be formed.
Right to reject, hence, should not now be a matter of mere discussion amongst lawmakers; it is demanded of them to ensure that the provision for such an option exists in the upcoming election legislation. It shall ensure good governance and accountability of political parties, and on the other hand strengthen participatory democracy.
- Karki is a student at Kathmandu School of Law
Published: 22-08-2017 08:10