The move will create more chaos, but it could instil accountability in the political class.
Former Chief Election Commissioner
It is neither viable nor a solution to the problem of non-performance, incompetence or misuse of office
The electorate is quite helpless when it finds elected representatives do not rise to expectations, and that is why there is this demand for the right to recall such representatives. But that is neither viable nor a solution to the problem of non-performance, incompetence or misuse of office.
Take the instance of a parliamentary constituency in India. Its electorate would be of an average size of 1,800,000. In an Assembly constituency, the average size would be between 200,000 and 300,000 voters.
If 50 per cent of these voters cast their votes in an election, then roughly 125,000 people who participate in a decision in an Assembly and about 900,000 who have taken part in an election in a parliamentary constituency. If you want a right to recall you would first have to fix a threshold as to how many people should be enough to decide that a particular representative should be recalled.
If out of 125,000 voters, a candidate has won by the votes cast by 30 per cent of the votes polled, that is 40,000, how many should be enough to decide that the MLA should be recalled?
Should it be 20,000 or should it be 75,000? As is evident, it is an absurd exercise. It is much better to say that a person to be elected should have 50 per cent plus one vote out of the total votes polled.
The question is why do you need a right to recall if you insist on this criterion of a person being declared elected only with 50 per cent plus one out of the votes polled? This would work in addition with negative voting. Once these two conditions are in place, you don’t need a right to recall.
It is not for nothing that countries around the world have steered clear of the right to recall. When there is a simpler and more straightforward way out of our dilemma of bad candidates, then why opt for a complicated solution that may just add to our problems not to speak of expenses?
Plus it is an extremely messy affair. Allegations would be raised about someone doing campaigns against a candidate and so on. It is especially messy in huge electorates like ours. You will then need another election each time a candidate is recalled. That would mean more expenses without a guarantee of the new winner being any better.
Besides, how do you decide whether someone should be subjected to a right to recall process? Should it be that 20,000 of the 40,000 who had voted give a signed memorandum and then it leads to the right to recall? Is it not better to prescribe negative voting to rule out election of bad candidates in the first place? And, of course, with the added condition that no one who gets less than 50 per cent plus one vote out of the total votes polled wins would solve the problem substantially.
And in casting negative votes, the number of people who say no one is eligible among the given candidates is also a key issue. If out of 100 votes, 40 say no one is eligible, then who gets elected? Of the remaining 60, if 25 votes go for the same person, then he would win. Again if 99 say no one is eligible, then in that case, the choice of the single person who has cast a vote would decide the winner!
Again, that is absurd. So that is why even in negative voting, the situation can be saved from such absurdities only if the other condition of 50 per cent plus one out of the votes cast being the required number to determine a winner.
In the absence of one of the two conditions, it won’t work. But the right to recall is a total non-starter and it would create more chaos than it seeks to remove.
It is futile to look for success stories in the right to recall for there aren’t any that can fit in Indian conditions. It is equally futile and counter productive to push fancy ideas when simpler solutions are available to solve our electoral problems.
As told to Sreelatha Menon
Jagdeep S Chhokar
Founding Member, Association for Democratic Reform
The arrogance of the elected seems to have reached dysfunctional levels. The right to recall is an antidote to this arrogance
The experience of the last couple of decades, particularly since the advent of coalition governments, has clearly demonstrated that the elected representatives’ urge to stick to their positions for five years seems to overpower everything else. The opposition’s main objective seems to be to embarrass the government and not to topple it in case a fresh election is held. The thought of toppling is entertained only when the opposition has a reasonably strong belief that it can cobble up an alternative government. This actually is avoidance of accountability.
It has also become clear that the period of five years between elections, with no real check on the performance, is too long. The disdain for public opinion and even overlooking the national interest, in the interest of maintaining their seats in the legislature, along with the fractured polity and confrontationist politics have brought governance to a grinding halt. The arrogance of the elected seems to have reached dysfunctional levels.
The right to recall is an antidote to this arrogance. The major objections to the right to recall are of two types. One is the fierce opposition by the political class. The other arises from the concerns about its practicability and what some people assume to be insurmountable complications. Let us look at the latter.
The bogey that since most MPs and MLAs get elected with less than 50 per cent of the vote being cast for them and, therefore, moves for their recall will be made as soon as the election is over is misconceived on several grounds. In all recall systems, there is something like a cooling-off period after the election during which no move for recall is allowed. It is for us, as a society, to decide on the length of that period. It could be anything — two, two and a half, or three years, whichever we, collectively, feel is appropriate for a significant proportion of the electorate to come to a rational and defensible view of a legislator’s actions and performance.
It takes us to the next issue: what should be this “significant proportion” of the electorate that can demand a recall election? To confound public opinion, the figure of six per cent specified in Switzerland is being bandied about. There is nothing on earth that says the figure should be the same in India. Given our specific situation, we can and should make our own determination. Whether we fix it at 50 or even 60 per cent, we will also take into consideration whether it will be the percentage of the votes polled or the registered votes.
Once a recall proposal passes the acceptance tests, a recall election will be held on the single issue whether the legislator should be recalled or not. The percentage of votes required for the recall to go through is also a matter of determination. Only when the votes polled in favour of recall cross that threshold will the recall become effective. If the recall election rejects the motion of recall, no recall motion is permitted for a specified period.
These are knotty issues but are we going to accept that our legislators and decision-makers are not capable of dealing with such issues? The answer is an emphatic “no”. Our legislators and decision-makers are perfectly capable of fully analysing all implications of such issues and taking decisions about them. The nagging question is whether the decision will be taken in the national interest, rising above partisan personal and party considerations, which is precisely why accountability is critical.
The right to recall is only one mechanism for instilling accountability. There are several other issues that require urgent attention for reforming the election system, the critical ones being internal democracy and financial transparency in political parties. Because it might take us time to implement those is no reason to reject the right to recall.