Should voting be made mandatory?


Amid opposition from the Congress, the Gujarat Assembly passed the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, on Dec 19, making voting compulsory in elections to all seven municipal corporations, 159 municipalities, 26 district panchayats, 223 taluka panchayats and 13,713 village panchayats of the state.

Piloting the bill, Urban Development Minister Nitin Patel said it was aimed at making democracy more representative and meaningful. Does compulsory voting make democracy representative? Democracy is a government by choice. To make democracy representative, Gujarat should provide representation to all communities in the selection of candidates, follow the reservation system in all appointments and empower the weakest communities with the right to education bill. As things are, most candidates in most parties do not deserve to be voted, given their credentials.

In the situations, people should have the right not to vote as well to make democracy meaningful. The voluntary nature of voting needs to be maintained, as long as voters do not have a right to reject all candidates.

Comparison

Chief Minister Narendra Modi called it a move to strengthen democracy. Terming the bill ‘an epochal move’, Modi said the educated and the intellectual class who often stay away from taking part in grassroots democracy would now have to do so. Taking a dig at those who protested soon after the Mumbai terror, “It was shocking to see that the large mass of people who had collected to light candles in the aftermath of 26/11 attacks in Mumbai did not come out to vote with the same enthusiasm,” he said. “Our decision seeks to overturn such a situation to ensure that there is maximum participation of people in elections.”

The comparison between mass participation of people after 26/11 and lack of participation in voting is not rational. When the state lacks empathy to the suffering of the people, the citizens of course will come together to find security in each other. On the other hand, when the political system is so rotten why would people go to the voting booths? Why would they cast their votes to leaders who can’t provide them security? Most of the citizens’ protests are an expression of the lack of trust of the people in governance.

In a democracy, leaders are not there to take the voters to task when they do not vote. Instead of compelling citizens to vote, why doesn’t Modi work to put an end to corruption in electioneering like giving and taking bribes, manipulation of election rolls and improve governance to include all?

According to the law, all registered voters in Gujarat will be required to vote. Those absent will be asked to submit a valid reason with proof within a month. The bill empowers the election officer to declare people who do not vote as defaulter voters.
This is both detestable and dangerous. If ‘democracy’ confers on every adult citizen the right to vote, the right not to vote is also fundamental.

Modi said he hoped that other states as well as the country as a whole would follow suit. He contended that making voting compulsory would go a long way in reducing corruption in the electoral process. “It has been a matter of concern for all of us and Gujarat has taken the initiative to show the way. With the voters going in large numbers to exercise their franchise, the role of black money is sure to be reduced and democracy will be the ultimate victor,” he added.

Modi noted that 32 countries had made voting compulsory, leading to the voting percentages shooting up from 45 to over 90 per cent. “How do you justify a situation wherein 50 per cent vote and with a mere 26 per cent, people rule for years while an overwhelming  70 per cent remains unrepresented and without any say? The situation needs to be changed.”

Such statements coming from the chief minister of Gujarat who has had no respect  for democratic values, needs to be countered. Since the Act would require a nod from the governor to come into force, one wishes that the governor does not accord his consent. A democratic state cannot be brought about by orders from above. Gujarat needs a democratic society for the evolution of a democratic state. With hate campaign against the minorities and the subalterns, compulsory voting cannot make a democracy out of Gujarat.

(The writer is the principal of St Joseph’s College, Bangalore)

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