Indians who don't give an iota for candidates voting NOTA

Indians who don't give an iota for candidates voting NOTA

NEW DELHI - Mr Sailesh Mishra was not impressed by any of the candidates standing for election in his constituency near Mumbai.

So, the 48-year-old from Thane, where the main fight is between the regional parties - Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena, decided to vote NOTA - None Of The Above.

Mr Mishra, who runs a non-profit for senior citizens, even publicised his decision on Twitter.

"Some 80 per cent of the people said I did a good thing. But... 20 per cent asked me why I wasted my vote," he said.

"But it is a good option because it becomes a pressure tactic and a way of communicating to parties to tell them something is wrong. I was fed up with all the candidates."

Indian elections are taking place in nine phases as 814 million people vote in the biggest democratic exercise in the world.

While there are hundreds of candidates, the Election Commission introduced the NOTA option in electronic voting machines for the first time in parliamentary elections in India, after a ruling last year by the Supreme Court.

The court noted that it could increase voter participation and put pressure on political parties to field clean candidates in a country where 30 per cent of the MPs in the current Parliament have criminal records.

The option will not change the outcome, however. Candidates with the most votes will still be declared the winner, even if more people vote NOTA.

So critics call it a waste of a vote while supporters say it is the first step towards pressuring political parties not to field corrupt candidates.

"People view democracy as having been hijacked by rogue elements in political parties. All kinds of things are happening, like the purchasing of votes," said former bureaucrat M. G. Devasahayam, who has been campaigning for NOTA.

"We hope to take it to the next step with Right to Reject. So when NOTA is the highest number, automatically elections stand cancelled and none of the candidates will be eligible so the power is coming into the hands of the people."

Sociologist Shiv Vishvanathan called it the beginning of more electoral reforms. "It is a wonderful first step and signals a lot. But by itself it is not enough," he said.

"We have a long way to go."

While NOTA is an option in a handful of countries like Colombia, Ukraine, Bangladesh and Spain, where a blank ballot is used, it made its debut in India in elections only last year in four states, including Delhi.

In those elections, 1.3 per cent of the 110 million votes cast were for NOTA. In a handful of constituencies, the NOTA vote even brought down the margin of the winner.

One problem, activists say, is that many voters are still unaware of the option of rejecting all candidates.

So civil society groups are trying to popularise the option using social media campaigns and through seminars.

And it is catching on.

Some 500 of the 2,000 people in the village of Poigaikaraipatti in Tamil Nadu voted NOTA, according to reports, to protest against the construction of a private chemical factory in the area.

The National Coalition of Men, which fights for rights for men, has also asked people to use NOTA if so inclined.

But political parties are not keen on the move.

"In a parliamentary democracy it's very hard to get an ideal situation. Some broad common understanding is required," said Communist Party of India (Marxist) politbureau member S. Ramachandran Pillai. "The NOTA option weakens democracy and strengthens individualism."

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