NOTA : Option to Reject All in Ballot Paper

Eurasia News


By Yasmeen Ali

Election Commission of Pakistan announced that an empty box will be now on the ballot paper-stating: ‘None of the above’ thereby rejecting all contesting candidates in a constituency. The news has taken political and media circles by storm. Most within these circles have opposed it, whereas the common educated man has hailed the decision. The Headmistress of a leading school wrote to me thus, “Brilliant idea.. gives the voter greater autonomy..much needed autonomy actually.”

Advantages and disadvantages of this must be carefully evaluated before lauding or rejecting the idea. Those who oppose have declared it as a step against democracy. Is it? If the voter is allowed the chance of rejecting all-it offers him a broader base than to choose between the Devil and the Black Sea. In a number of cases, one hears people refraining from voting particularly in the urban areas because they do not want to vote for the same electable who have bought in change for the better. Urban areas are marked by low resident interaction, an absence of the ‘baithak’ (general commuting place for residents) culture. This is not only true of upscale areas but also lower-middle income neighborhoods.

However, biradari(clan)system holds sway still in voter decision, particularly in the rural area. They also fill the gap that is left by ideological absence of political parties. In this scenario the right of voters to reject any and every candidate offers an interesting option. An interesting question poses itself with the option. Let us assume 32% of total voters turn out for voting in a given constituency and more than 50% vote for ‘None of the above.’ This leaves 15% of votes behind to be then distributed between 4 or so candidates. Let us again assume that the candidate with the most votes manages to garner 7% votes- others bagging less. The question that comes to mind is: is the candidate with 7% of total votes cast in his favor legally and morally the winner of the contest?

What should the ECP do in this case?

If NOTA merely mean to state the number of people not willing to vote any contesting candidate in power on the ballot paper, they might as well not turn up to cast the votes. What weightage do the votes cast for NOTA signify if at all?

Logical follow-up to this scenario should be to call for a by-election with fresh candidates in the above given scenario. This will make contestants more answerable to the people they represent. This will make them more answerable in terms of broken promises to people they represent. It will also make them more answerable to the people in cases where rampant corruption committed, if any. In the final analysis let the people decide whom to vote for. That is the essence of democracy. This should also mean they cannot be appointed as advisors and chairpersons of organizations.

According to the July 14, 2008 edition of the “Times of India,” the caretaker Bangladeshi regime five years ago had also proposed that an election to a constituency should be cancelled if “no votes” somehow amounted to 50 per cent or more of the total votes cast—consequently leading to a by-election(The News 26th Feb 2013).

This decision by ECP has come at a time when according to a survey of the British Council titled Next Generation Goes to The Ballot Box, showed that only one in five young adults expect their economic situation to improve over the next year.An overwhelming 96 percent of those surveyed said the country was heading in the wrong direction and almost a third said they would prefer military rule to democracy.Just 29 percent chose democracy as the best system for Pakistan, with 40 percent favoring sharia, saying it was the best for giving rights and freedom and promoting tolerance. We must nurture democracy with fresh water not just be lip service and implement it in its truest spirit.

Pakistan is not the first country to introduce NOTA. Various countries and territories like Bangladesh, the American state of Nevada, Greece and Columbia etc have incorporated the ‘No Vote” or “None of the above” option on their ballot papers.Canada and Spain etc do not specifically have this provision on their ballot papers, but they do allow their citizens the right to decline to vote or to leave the ballot papers blank in dissent.Former Soviet Union had this provision in 1991 and after its break-up; Russia had kept on giving this privilege to its voters till 2006.

Why so much hue and cries on a step that is in the very spirit of democracy and all that is democratic?

The writer is a lawyer and University Professor. She can be reached at Twitter ID @yasmeen_9