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Reform the vote

The question of electoral reform has been under discussion for many years now. Though certain significant measures have been taken by the Election Commission, no major change to make our elections more transparent and fully representative of public opinion has yet been made, writes Karan Singh.

india Updated: May 13, 2009 22:49 IST

The question of electoral reform has been under discussion for many years now. Though certain significant measures have been taken by the Election Commission, no major change to make our elections more transparent and fully representative of public opinion has yet been made.

At present, due to the presence of multiple political parties, it usually transpires that people who are elected to the state Assemblies or Parliament receive only a minority of the votes cast in their respective constituencies. As a result, few of these members actually represent a majority opinion in their electorate. This tends to undermine the legitimacy of our democratic process and leads to frustration and negative thinking.

I would like to reiterate three proposals which, in my view, would ensure that the winning candidates represent the majority opinion. First, after the first round of polling, the two candidates who top the polling should contest for a second phase the following day. With electronic voting machines (EVMs), this shouldn’t pose an administrative problem. It will bring about a substantive improvement in the representative character of legislators, for they will finally be representing a majority opinion in their respective constituencies.

Second, voting should be made compulsory as it is in Australia and some other countries. After all, if we are proud to live in a democratic polity, it should be incumbent upon every citizen to cast his/her vote. Election day could be made a paid holiday, so that no one loses even a day’s salary. A few exceptions can always be made in the case of those who cannot exercise their franchise due to illness or for other reasons.

The third suggestion is to include a column labelled ‘abstain’ along with the names of all candidates. So if a voter is dissatisfied with all the candidates, s/he can voice her/his resentment by using the abstain option. It will also put pressure on political parties to field acceptable candidates.

These three suggestions, if implemented with the Election Commission’s other measures, can go a long way towards strengthening our democratic system, making it truly representative of the views of the people and, therefore, more dynamic.

Karan Singh is a Member of Parliament.