Elections and NOTA

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

Voters should be aware that there is an option of NOTA (None of the Above) provided in the voting machine along with the candidates’ names. Through the usage of NOTA, a citizen can choose not to vote for any of the candidates who are contesting the elections. The NOTA option is being used by many voters as an expression of dissatisfaction with the political parties, candidates or the electoral system.
During recent elections, the votes for NOTA have been increasing. In many cases NOTA votes are more than the margin of wins. Recently, NOTA has emerged as the second runner-up, ie, got the third highest votes, more than many national and regional political parties like the BSP, the CPI, etc. In the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections, in 118 constituencies, NOTA polled the third largest vote share, after the BJP and the Congress. In the 2018 Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, the difference between the vote share of the BJP and the Congress was just 0.1%, whereas NOTA polled a vote share of 1.4%.
However, presently, for the assembly elections and the Lok Sabha polls, NOTA does not hold any electoral value, ie, even if the maximum votes are for NOTA, the candidates with the maximum vote shares will still be the winners. NOTA does not guarantee dismissal of the winning candidate. Presently, it’s only a method to give a negative feedback or to show the voters’ rejection of the fielded candidates. Hence, many experts opine that though NOTA is a positive step, it does not go far enough and therefore is merely cosmetic or symbolic.
There have been discussions to improve on NOTA, and to empower the voters through NOTA. Some of the suggested improvements are: If NOTA receives the highest number of votes, reelection should be held in that constituency; if the votes received by NOTA are higher than a certain percentage, reelection should be held; and to conduct reelection if the votes polled for NOTA are higher than the winning margin of votes.
Some states have implemented changes to accommodate voters’ usage of NOTA in the panchayat and local elections. After finding that NOTA polled the highest votes in the panchayat polls, in November 2018, the Maharashtra state election commission (SEC) announced that if NOTA gets the maximum votes in an election, reelections would be held.
The order would be applicable to polls and bye-polls to all municipal corporations and nagar panchayats. If NOTA gets the highest number of votes in the reelection as well, the candidate with the most votes will be declared the winner.
The Haryana SEC followed suit, declaring in November 2018 that NOTA would be treated as a fictional candidate and reelections would be conducted if NOTA won the majority vote.
If NOTA is an option on the voting machine, shouldn’t it be honoured and respected? In a democracy, people’s opinion must be honoured. Shouldn’t NOTA be treated as a candidate?(The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)