For the 2014 elections and beyond,give voters a choice to cast a "negative" vote

2013-09-29 22:21

With 2014 election a few months away here's a suggestion. The Independent Electoral Commission and Civil Society Organisations should apply to the Constitutional Court for voters to be afforded the right to cast a 'negative' vote, as an alternative to abstaining from voting entirely. Just think about this. We would have a higher voter turnout since those frustrated by failure on the part of government vis-a-vis service delivery and corruption and crime etc would be able to amplify their frustration by turning up on election day and casting such a vote. What do I mean by 'negative voting'?

Assuming you are a die hard supporter of a political party whose performance of late has been abysmal especially in the service delivery area. That party should be informed that it cannot be guaranteed return through its traditional vote bank when voters turn up large numbers and vote "none of the above" or NOTA for short.

Take a deep breath and think about this for a moment. After all, the Supreme Court,of the world's largest democracy,namely India a country notorious for corruption amongst politicians thinks that this is a good idea. It has held to that effect.

If we follow this route, SA would not be alone with India. France and Belgium also have the NOTA option,just in case you wondering.

As a emerging and developing democracy we should follow the precedent established by the Supreme Court of India that holds that voters should be provided with the option of "negative voting". It held that there was merit in the postulate that voters be given an option to record a NOTA ,that is 'None of the above' vote as an alternative of casting their vote for a particular candidate, or in our case,party contesting an election or abstaining.

There is nothing in our Constitution that offends against this, and, I submit,it falls squarely within the ambit of freedom of opinion and expression.

Lets examine this carefully.

In a vibrant democracy, a voter must be given an opportunity to choose none of the above (NOTA) which would compel the political parties to nominate a candidate or candidates of sound or good standing and reputation. Those political parties that pander to the unscrupulous and the corrupt as we have painfully been witnessing of late would be on notice to carefully screen candidates even under the current party list system where you vote for the party and not the candidate.

By providing NOTA option the Indian Supreme Court held that it would accelerate the effective political participation in the present state of democratic system and the voters in fact would be empowered. In establishing the right to cast , what is tantamount to a 'negative vote' at a time when electioneering is in full swing, it will foster the purity as well as validity of the electoral process and also fulfil one of its objective, namely, achieving a broader or wider participation of people.

Free and fair election is a basic structure of our Constitution and necessarily includes within its ambit the giving of the right to a voter not to vote for any candidate while protecting his right of secrecy is extremely important in a democracy.

Such an option gives the voter the right to express his disapproval with the kind of candidates that are being put up by the political parties. With service delivery and other challenges putting our democracy at risk I submit that there is merit in this.

When the political parties realise that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them, gradually there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity. This would avoid the embarrassing outcome like in the Tlokwe municipality where even ANC officials lodged a vote of no-confidence and in the process handing control to the DA!

The option can also be supported by the fact that in the existing system a dissatisfied voter ordinarily does not turn up for voting which in turn provides a chance to unscrupulous elements to impersonate the dissatisfied voter and cast a vote, be it a negative one.

Furthermore, a provision of negative voting would be in the interest of promoting democracy as it would send clear signals to political parties and their candidates as to what the electorate really thinks about them.

The mechanism of negative voting, thus, serves a very fundamental and essential part of a vibrant democracy.

So South Africa,how about it?

Saber Jazbhay



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