Opinion makers and activists have hailed the Supreme Court’s verdict on negative voting. They say that political parties will, hereafter, have to be careful in choosing their nominees for elections to Parliament and State Assemblies. The order will enable protecting the confidentiality of voters as, in the present system, there is no provision in electronic voting machines, and voters, wanting to exercise the option of Rule 49 – O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 [providing an option to electors for not casting vote], will have to sign in a register.

Former Chief Election Commissioner T. S. Krishnamurthy, who, during his stint in the Election Commission in 2004, recommended to the Union government for including the provision of negative/neutral voting in electronic voting machines, sees no hitch in implementing the order. Asked for reaction to a hypothetical example of the number of persons exercising the option exceeding the number of voters polled by a winning candidate in a constituency, the former CEC replies that such a scenario can be averted by amending the law to enable a second round of voting.

M.G. Devasahayam, who was active during the 2011 Assembly elections in mobilising public opinion against corrupt practices in elections and convenor of the Forum for Electoral Integrity, says that such a winner would not have the moral authority to face voters. So, the parties would be compelled to field better candidates. Pointing out that the court’s order is the first step to cleanse the present system, he wants the Election Commission to implement it immediately.

Gnani V. Sankaran, columnist and a votary of the Rule 49 – O, says the development should facilitate a comprehensive set of electoral reforms including proportional representation, the right to recall and referendum. The court order will deter parties from nominating not only candidates with criminal antecedents but also those who, after getting elected, remain indifferent to problems and issues faced by people in their constituencies.

A perusal of the Election Commission’s report on the 2011 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu reveals that though the State witnessed a record voter turnout of 78.3 per cent, 24,591 voters exercised 49 “O” option.

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