Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Friday initiated a fresh debate on electoral reforms by suggesting introduction of the “right to reject” in the voting system, and discussing the increasing number of candidates winning polls (to the Lok Sabha/Assemblies) with “minority votes” — getting elected by securing less than 50 per cent of the total votes polled in their constituencies.

Addressing a function of the Election Commission, to celebrate the “third voters day” (to enrol new voters in the country), Mr. Ansari, who is also Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, said there was need for taking corrective steps relating to the “first-past-the-post system” in which the successful candidate wins on the plurality, rather than the majority, of votes cast.

Its limitation was evident from factual data. In the first general election in 1952, the percentage of successful candidates who secured less than 50 per cent of the total votes cast in their constituencies was 67.28. This figure went down to 58.09 per cent in the 1957 election. In the general elections held in 1999, 2004, and 2009, it was 60.03, 75.87 and 82.68 respectively — more candidates got elected to the Lok Sabha by securing less than 50 per cent of the total votes polled in their constituencies.

“The conclusion is inescapable that a majority of elected members of the Lok Sabha in recent years, and even earlier, won on a minority of votes cast in their constituencies. The situation is no better, perhaps worse, in the Assembly Elections with the percentage of the returned candidates on minority of votes cast going above 70 in several cases.”

“When this percentage is considered alongside the average voter turnout, it would suggest that the elected representative may not be, often is not, representative of his/her electoral constituency. Furthermore, this system encourages candidates to focus on securing votes of a segment of the electorate and thereby accentuate or reinforce social divisions based on narrower considerations that derogate from inclusiveness and promote divisive tendencies and social conflict,” Mr. Ansari said.

The Vice-President also called for a fresh debate on the “right to reject” (the candidate during the polls by voters). It was argued “in terms of the democratic theory, that the right to vote carries with it an obligation to exercise the franchise in favour of a candidate of choice. A corollary of this would be the right to reject if none of the candidates on the list found favour with the voter. Such a conscious rejection would be preferable to abstention from voting. The procedural modality for bringing this about can be worked out on the model of some of the democracies where it is in vogue.”

Law and Justice Minister Ashwani Kumar said the government remained irrevocably committed to electoral reforms in a major way.

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