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Friday, May 15, 2015

Gujarat attempts to make voting ' mandatory ' !!

The recent decision of  Karnataka High Court Justice C R Kumaraswamy acquitting  former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa from the disproportionate asset case,  raised many a debates.   In the melee of public opinion, as everybody thinks themselves to be legal luminaries,  the possibility of early Assembly elections in the State, which is due in 2016 has also been discussed. 

In India often elections are festivals – there are many who do not exercise franchise citing silly reasons.  In the city, people will not vote when it rains, when it is hot, when there is crowd, when violence is apprehended and more..  in a Democracy, some get elected by getting less than 25% of the electoral votes – but don’t blame them; don’t even blame the system – blame the individuals who do not vote………. When there is very high % of voting, people start suspecting bogus voting. 

President Obama, whose party was trounced in last year’s midterm election due in part to poor turnout among Democrats, endorsed the idea of mandatory voting  recently.  “It would be transformative if everybody voted,” Mr. Obama said during a town-hall event in Cleveland. “That would counteract [campaign] money more than anything. If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country.” Mr. Obama raised the subject during a discussion of curbing the influence of campaign donations in U.S. elections. The president said he had never discussed the idea publicly before, but said Australia and some other countries have compulsory voting.

In between comes the news that Gujarat is showing the way making voting mandatory before civic polls.  Reports state that Gujarat Governor O.P. Kohli has already cleared the controversial legislation making it mandatory for people to vote in the local body polls or face a penalty. Now the state government is keen on implementing it during the elections to 315 local self-governments, and is likely to frame rules for it shortly.

A Government notice states  that Gujarat will become the first state in the country to introduce compulsory voting before the polls scheduled in October.  The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, that was twice passed by the state government when Narendra Modi was the chief minister but turned down by former governor Kamla Beniwal, was approved by incumbent Kohli in November 2014 making it a law. It also has a provision for 50 per cent reservation for women in the local bodies.
Beniwal did not clear the bill during her tenure, Congress has criticised this. Tjhe Govt had  appointed a committee headed by former State Election Commissioner K.C. Kapoor in February.  It has now invited suggestions from the public as to what could be the penalty for violating the law of compulsory voting. The committee invited suggestions on April 9. 

For its detractors, Compulsory voting is nothing new.  In Australia, under Federal electoral law, it is compulsory for all eligible Australian citizens to enrol and vote in federal elections, by-elections and referendums. Compulsory enrolment for federal elections was introduced in 1912;  Compulsory voting for state elections was introduced in Queensland in 1915 and         Compulsory voting at federal elections was introduced in 1924.

Over there, it is stated that voting is a civic duty which must be performed compulsorily and teaches the benefits of political participation.   After each election, the Australian Election Commission,  will send a letter to all apparent non-voters requesting that they either provide a valid and sufficient reason for failing to vote or pay a $20 penalty.  If the notice is not responded within time, the matter could be referred to a Court and when found guilty, the fine could be  $170 plus court costs and a criminal conviction. 

However, the person who failed to vote can provide reasons, acceptance of which is at the discretion of the Divisional Returning Officer for each electorate to determine what is a valid and sufficient reason for not voting. Under  the Electoral Act, the fact that an elector believes it to be a part of his or her religious duty to abstain from voting constitutes a valid and sufficient reason for not voting.

Interesting !
With regards – S. Sampathkumar

15th May 2o15.

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