Promising signs

Promising signs

The third phase of general elections covering 91 seats in 14 states and union territories has seen a welcome sign of high voter interest with an enhanced turnout for polling.

The two earlier phases which were held in the north-eastern states had also witnessed a high turnout, with Assam and Tripura registering about 75 per cent and 85 per cent respectively. But the number of seats there were much less than in the third phase which covered populous states across the country.

So the higher turnout in the latest phase may even be taken as a national trend. In most states which went to the polls on Thursday the turnout was more than in the 2009 elections. There was a 5 to 8 per cent increase in many states, and in a traditionally low-polling state like Delhi, the increase was as high as 12 per cent.

The higher turnout marks increased citizen participation in the democratic process. Democracy is meaningful only when it involves the largest number of people in its processes, and elections are the most basic among them.

Low participation is a sign of disinterest and cynicism and it reduces the legitimacy of elections and their results, though their legality may not be questioned. Political parties and candidates may debate and interpret a higher turnout in different ways and claim, till the day of results, that it favours them.

There is a view that a higher turnout of voters happens when there is a mood of political change. But it has also invited the counter-view that such a perceived shift pushes all sections to more actively join the electoral process. Young voters may be taking greater interest in elections, as reports suggest, and it is a good sign. Greater mobilisation by parties and candidates is another factor.

The Election Commission has also undertaken a special campaign this time to reach out to the voters, calling upon them to exercise their right to vote. It is not important which parties or candidates gain or lose from a higher voter turnout. The real gainer is democracy.

The elections till now were also notable for their generally peaceful conduct and absence of many complaints about malpractices. Even the Maoist-dominated areas saw a fairly high turnout and fewer cases of violence than in the past.

The Election Commission deserves credit for the peaceful and efficient conduct of the elections spread over large areas and involving many millions of voters.

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