Thursday, January 14, 2010

Usual Suspects: As political reforms go, Modi’s must-vote bill is an important step

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    • An interesting feature of the Gujarat legislation is that there is a provision for voters to reject all the candidates on offer — a “none of these” option. Presumably, if the majority of voters rejects the list of aspirants, a re-election will become mandatory. In other words, the act of either neutrality or protest has been built into a system of compulsory participation.

      As political reforms go, the Gujarat legislation is one of the most important initiatives in recent times. Yet, it is curious that it has been greeted with an embarrassed but deafening silence, not least from those who are loudest in their indignation over the present debasement of electoral politics. In true babu fashion, the Election Commission has underlined the administrative difficulties of ensuring total participation, and some liberals have expressed dismay at the attempt to codify the obligations of citizenship. Yet others have pointed to the absurdities involved in dragging the sick, infirm and transient voters into the polling booth. In time, there may even be theological objections to a system of participation that isn’t divinely ordained. Even within Modi’s own party, the Gujarat legislation has not secured unequivocal endorsement. The temptation to see the measure as Modi’s personal, overbearing initiative has clouded dispassionate assessment.

    • The dramatic consequences of compulsory voting need to be spelt out. For a start, since a large percentage of electioneering costs governs the turnout of voters, it is certain to reduce the importance of money power quite dramatically. There will be an automatic shift in focus from ensuring voter turnout to publicizing what a party or candidate stands for. There will be a shift in politics from organization to issues. By implication, the role of the apparatchiks in the political system will be devalued.

      Secondly, a major distortion in our election system results from bloc-voting by one section and the relative non-participation by a larger, unorganized and amorphous group of citizens. An organized group can punch above its weight and distort the verdict by capitalizing on the passivity of others. Compulsory voting puts all citizens, regardless of class, gender, caste and religion, on an equal footing. A net consequence could be the lowering of sectarian tensions as an instrument of voter mobilization.

      Finally, a government elected with the endorsement of a majority, as opposed to a majority of the minority that turns up to vote, will enjoy extra legitimacy. This, in turn, will be a weapon of decisive governance.

    • comments:
    • No Mist said...
    • In this case the evaders are to the tune of 40% of electorate. So the question is of appropriate incentive. To my mind the best incentive is to offer rebate in taxes. Someone who duly casts her/his vote in all the elections in that year could be given a tax rebate of 10% in income tax. With UID and PAN card system in place, it would not be difficult to implement this scheme.

      Those who do not cast their vote for 3 elections (for either LS, VS or local) - either consecutive or non consecutive - will be slapped with an extra 10% of income tax in the financial year in which the third evaded election took place.

      For the non-tax payers we can provide a free medical insurance to them. To keep the costs in check as well as to ensure that this insurance is really useful, we can provide insurance only on OPD consultations (by general practitioners) as opposed to the prevalent practice of insuring only hospitalization charges.

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