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When you’re caught between the Devil and the deep blue Sea
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    casting vote
A political turmoil has enveloped Pakistan since Panama Leaks swept the political landscape. Many claim the solution is “more democracy” to weed out the corrupt. This is now an inapplicable narrative. Democracy comes wrapped in the cloak of dynastic rule that is not delivering. Many lament General Raheel Sharif should have taken a decisive step when the reigns were in his hands. This narrative is as incorrect as the first one. Army has its own role to play that definitely does not include running the country.
The correct and democratic way may well lie in applying NOTA. This gives those voters the chance to reject all the candidates named in the ballot paper by ticking on ‘None of the above’ option. There is no reason to remain silent any more. Simon Pardoe writes: “Why vote ‘none’? Many people consider that none of the parties will make any difference. What does it achieve? Why is it better than not voting? Every government needs to claim a mandate to govern based on voters’ support. So voting ‘none’ makes visible the current lack of support for those elected and their lack of mandate. It enables the ‘unheard third’ to act democratically to demonstrate opposition rather than apathy. Most of all, it gives us all an opportunity to show that there is political opinion that is not currently represented by the parties, and that there really is support for different candidates, different policies and potentially different politics. What if ‘none’ wins in a constituency? It should require a new election to inspire different candidates.” (April 16, 2015)
In the previous election held, 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 had taken political and media circles by storm. Many within these circles had opposed it, whereas the common educated man had hailed the decision. Unfortunately, this was removed days before the country went to vote. Those who opposed had 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 neighbourhoods.
The logical outcome of NOTA will be those elected will be more answerable to the voters. 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 organisations.
Pakistan will not be 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.
‘A ‘none of the above’ option on the ballot paper could motivate disillusioned citizens to take part in the act of voting – without compulsion. It could exert a new kind of pressure on the political parties and candidates, forcing them to see, in hard cold numbers, the degree of frustration in their own constituency. It could deflate support levels of fringe, populist parties.’ (Published Feb. 5, 2015)
Pakistan is more democratically aware than it ever was before. The media, increased social forum engagement are major factors in contributing towards it. Unfortunately the political system is breaking- a ‘none of the above’ option is a very practical way of reinforcing peoples’ confidence in the system more than all other reforms put together. Without this basic step, people will switch off from elections more and more. It will lead to more disenchantment, more negativity towards politicians and politics and a fast polarising society hurling towards a precipice.
Though NOTA will not solve everything, it will certainly involve greater number of people in the process of elections, offering transparency, giving a weapon to the masses to be exercised judiciously. In case of straight 50% voting None of the above, security of all candidates must be seized and said candidates banned for contesting for ten years; parties need to put up fresh candidates instead of those put up earlier. This option relies heavily also on the transparency of the election process itself.
Tim Donovan in states, “The level of embarrassment that a victory for “none of the above” causes to losing politicians cannot be understated. It’s such a powerful tool that Russia had to abandon it entirely in 2006, two short years after scandalous victories for the protest vote in St. Petersburg, Sverdlovsk and Ulyanovsk. A victory for “none of the above” makes it impossible for politicians to ignore widespread voter dissatisfaction. As it stands, our system is great for the Democratic and Republican parties, who happily maintain the fiction that all Americans can be served by our two enthusiastically pro-business parties. But it’s a system that’s pretty crappy for everyone else. Why can’t I say so with my vote?”
Yasmeen Aftab Ali is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She tweets at @yasmeen_9