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Law Commission pushes out electoral reforms report: Against compulsory voting, rights to recall, reject

The Law Commission yesterday said that it was not in the favour of introducing compulsory voting, terming it undemocratic, undesirable and not helping to improve political awareness and participation.

(Read 255th Law Commission report here (PDF))

Coupled with this, it has also not favoured the often voiced plea for right to recall as well to reject a winning candidate if the vote polled by him were less than those opting for none of the above (NOTA) or state funding of the elections in view of the current economic conditions of the country.

The commission has however recommended increasing the period of disqualification from current three years to five years for a candidate who fails to file election expenses and contributions received, with the intent to debar defaulters from contesting the next elections at least.

Speaking to media after submitting the report on wide ranging electoral reforms to the Union Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, Law Commission Chairman Justice (retd.) AP Shah said it was not desirable to introduce compulsory voting and was not feasible to have a right to recall or reject an elected representative.

He also said that it was possible to control the use of social media for the projection of political parties and the candidates in the last 48 hours when electioneering comes to an end before the date of polling.

Not recommending compulsory voting, the panel said it was “highly undesirable for a variety of reasons a such as being undemocratic, illegitimate, expensive, unable to improve quality political participation and awareness, and difficult to implement”.

This recommendation runs contrary to the case of Gujarat which has made voting compulsory in local bodies election with a provision for penalty on those abstaining from voting. The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009 was given assent by Governor OP Kohli in 2014.

On the rejection of winning candidate getting vote less than counted for NOTA, the commission said it “currently rejects the extension of the NOTA principle to introduce a right to reject the candidate and invalidate the election in cases where a majority of the votes have been polled in favour of the NOTA option”.

Similarly the demand for the right to recall too did not find favour.

“The Law Commission is not in favour of introducing the right to recall in any form because it can lead to an excess of democracy, undermines the independence of the elected candidates, ignores minority interests, increases instability and chaos, increases chances of misuse and abuse, is difficult and expensive to implement in practice, especially given that India follows the first past the post system.”

Seeking the regulation of paid news and political advertisement under the provisions of Representation of People Act, the Commission said that the “definitions of “paying for news”, “receiving payment for newsa and “political advertisement” should be inserted in section 2 of the RPA”.

The Commission has recommended that both “paying for the news” by the candidates and “receiving payment for news” by the media organisation should be made an electoral offence by inserting it in the newly inserted section 127B of the electoral act.

“Not only will the incorporation of this electoral offence make paying for news/receiving payment for news penal, the stringent punishment will ensure that if the candidate themselves are found guilty, then, in all likelihood, they will be disqualified pursuant to section 8(3) of the RPA,” said its recommendation.

The commission has recommended an amendment to the constitution to vesting with the president or the governor the power to disqualify a member of parliament or state legislature on the grounds of defection, instead of the speaker or chairman as presently, on the advice of the poll panel.

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