Dissecting the shortcomings of ‘NOTA’

Elections stand as the cor-nerstone of vibrant democracy, embodying governance through elected representatives.
Dissecting the shortcomings of ‘NOTA’

Dipak Kurmi

(The writer can be reached at dipakkurmiglpltd@gmail.com.)

Elections stand as the cor-nerstone of vibrant democracy, embodying governance through elected representatives. In the forthcoming year, the global political landscape will witness a pivotal moment, with over 50 nations, encompassing nearly half of the world’s populace, heading to the polls. This juncture holds immense significance, presenting an opportune time to spearhead fresh initiatives aimed at fortifying the discourse on civilization and fostering inclusive developmental narratives across various spheres of human enterprise. From propelling economic growth to championing sustainable development, from ensuring accessible quality education and healthcare to addressing the challenges of climate change, from harnessing emerging technologies to safeguarding human rights and territorial integrity, and from nurturing robust international relations to fostering peace in an increasingly tumultuous world, these elections serve as a catalyst for progress. Of particular note is India, hailed as the cradle of democracy, standing as one of the largest democracies globally, poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of democratic values and practices.

At this critical juncture, it is imperative to contemplate two fundamental principles. Firstly, we must ponder whether political parties should base their candidate selection solely on electability. Secondly, we must question whether voters will cast their ballots solely to elect or reject candidates. These considerations are pivotal as we navigate the intricacies of the electoral process and the democratic fabric.

Voters must reflect on whether candidate selection should solely hinge on electability and if voting serves merely to elect or reject contenders. Experience, dedication to noble causes, integrity, transparency, and a commitment to public welfare and nation-building should guide candidate selection. Elected representatives should possess the competence to shape a robust development agenda and advocate for it effectively. They must aptly articulate the public’s aspirations for inclusive and sustainable progress.

Elections serve as a platform for voters to determine which political party can best represent their aspirations, make decisions for the greater good, enact effective governance laws, and implement policies for inclusive socio-economic growth. They also provide an opportunity for the public to endorse their historical, cultural, defence, and environmental preferences. Prioritizing the best social security model over superficial giveaways should guide candidate selection, fostering healthy competition among political entities in policy formulation and implementation. Elections are not merely about political preferences; they are a reflection of societal values encompassing social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, patriotic, and pluralistic dimensions. It’s often said that we get the government we deserve, emphasizing the importance of thoroughly evaluating candidates based on their integrity, dedication to public service, fair governance abilities, and innovative thinking during campaigns. These attributes should be paramount considerations for both political parties and voters when selecting candidates and casting votes.

The provision of NOTA (none of the above) hasn’t yielded the intended results, as it hasn’t compelled political parties to refine their candidate selection criteria. This suggests a lack of learning on the part of parties and candidates from this provision. Singaporean doctor Paul Tambyah offers insightful voting advice: “Voting is not a marriage; it’s public transport. You’re not waiting for ‘the one’; you’re getting on the bus. And if there isn’t one going exactly where you want, you don’t stay home and sulk. You take the one that’s closest to your destination.” This underscores the importance of not abstaining but instead choosing the candidate whose policy orientation aligns most closely with your own. Historically, parties have prioritised factors like caste, community, language, influence, and financial resources—collectively termed the ‘winnability factor”—in candidate selection. However, basing candidate selection and voting solely on such criteria undermines democracy’s essence, which hinges on impartially exercising choices. Providing a platform for all candidates to present their development agendas to the electorate would be a prudent step forward.

The media holds immense responsibility for voter education, with the quality of debates across electronic, print, and social platforms significantly influencing voter perceptions. Hence, elections present a pivotal moment for the media to prioritize accuracy and integrity, avoiding the dissemination of misinformation, disinformation, and fake or paid news. It is imperative for the press to accurately portray the realities facing voters, aiding them in making informed choices regarding candidates. Public figures seeking re-election should actively engage in educating the public about the fundamental principles of elections and democracy. Moreover, they should use the election campaign as an opportunity to present alternative models of development and governance, inviting scrutiny and offering themselves for performance evaluations.

Overcoming voter disengagement is crucial to preserving democratic values and ensuring active participation in the electoral process. One effective approach is to emphasise that voting is not just a right but a civic duty. Apathy towards voting can have serious repercussions, potentially resulting in unfavourable election outcomes and governance. It’s important to recognise that even those who abstain from voting share responsibility for the government elected. Dismissing voting as solely a concern for the poor is dangerous; it undermines the very foundation of our democratic system. Many of our national heroes fought and sacrificed for India’s status as the mother of democracy, making voting a meaningful way to honour their legacy and uphold the values they championed. Emphasising these principles can inspire greater voter turnout and foster increased public participation in shaping our government.

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