Thursday, June 20, 2024
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New dimension to electoral reforms debate

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Khurshid supports right to recall

By Harihar Swarup

The debate over the Right of the people to Recall or reject their representatives in the event of their failure to perform or getting involved in corrupt practices or moral turpitude has been revived. The Law Minister, Salman Khurshid, has agreed to include the issue of Right to Recall or reject in the comprehensive debate on electoral reforms. He feels “the right to reject” candidates during election was a “more manageable idea” than the “Right to Recall” an elected law maker. According to him the people demanding the Right to Recall will have to explain to the government under what circumstances and in which manner a lawmaker should be recalled. Salman Khurshid went on record saying that the Law Ministry has looked into various models of the Right to Recall and the idea will be put before an all-party-meeting on electoral reforms to be held either this month (October, 2011) or in November.

Team Anna has also demanded the provision for Right to Recall and Right to Reject as part of the electoral reforms. Should the voters wait for five years to recall their representatives or can they recall them anytime for their non-performance ? This is the moot question as the debate on electoral reforms heats up.

An important point in team Anna’s agenda is to built pressure on the government to gear up reforms, specially the Right to Recall the elected representatives. The government has left it to experts to decide on the nitty-gritty of the matter. In a country like India where large number of undesirable candidates get elected, where elections are highly influenced by money power and muscle power, where even party tickets are purchased by affluent candidates, it will be worthwhile finding ways and means to eradicate these maladies. Team Anna is all for Right to Recall; Nitish Kumar is fine with it; and the Congress party’s Salman Khurshid is open to debating the subject. The BJP may or may not be for it, but appears to be tongue-tied. Only the Chief Election Commissioner S Y Qureshi is vocally against it.

According to him, the Right to Recall or reject legislators can lead to instability and is logically almost impossible to implement. “Right to Recall means about five lakh people have to sign the application to recall; then we will have to verify those signatures…..it is a maddening to find out which signature is bogus”, Qureshi reportedly argued.

There are two reasons why the right to recall holds the key to electoral reform and reduction of political corruption. But there are also two concerns that need to be deliberated. One, when a candidate is going to face the possibility of a mid-term recall, he is less likely to treat his voters with contempt. He will make it a point to engage them all through the term—and not just six months before an election.

Two, when you fear the possibility of a recall—no one can guarantee that your constituency will not have necessary disgruntled elements—you will be more circumspect about money—and will, therefore, require less funds.

Three, in principle, the people should always have right to correct a wrong decision made at the last election. Waiting for another election five years down the line is inefficient.

As opposed to this, the primary arguments against the right to recall are also three-fold.

One, the right to recall may have the perverse effect of getting only criminals elected in some constituencies. Ask yourself who would be most immune to recall? Probably, someone who can use strong-arm methods to ensure that citizens do not campaign against him for a recall. In places where law and order are vulnerable to criminal manipulation, the right to recall may end up giving us exactly the kind of politician we don’t want—the thugs. Two, we also have Qureshi’s argument of instability. One is the prospect of frequent elections. Candidates would thus be wary of taking bold stands on any issue for fear of the voter. There would also be possibility of all candidates promising voters the moon which means every candidate to act fiscally irresponsibly. Three, there is questions of costs and logistics. If elections have to be held every now and then, and moreover, the Election Commission has the arduous task of verifying the authenticity of those wanting to recall their legislators, we will be bankrupting ourselves with this right.

Looking back at the benefits and costs of the right to recall, quite clearly the balance right now is against the idea. But, there is always a right time for the right idea. The idea may not be feasible right now because of the logistics and cost involved. But several changes are taking place in India which will make the right to recall more feasible later. We should embrace it then. (IPA Service)

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