Nay fever

Updated: Jan 26 2005, 05:30am hrs
The Supreme Court has put a focus on the debate over negative voting as the nation celebrates the Republics 55th anniversary. The argument is that allowing this will enable people to better express dissatisfaction with existing choices, thus making elections a more accurate gauge of voter mood. But negative voting is the wrong solution to a problem that has been misidentified. For one, middle class dissatisfaction with politics should not be confused with dissatisfaction in general. How do we account for India having one of the most impressive election turnout rates, even when compared to OECD democracies Or the fact that the poor vote in larger proportions here than anywhere else in the world This should not make us complacent about our democracy, but caution us against imputing an indiscriminate crisis of legitimacy to the electoral system.

A negative vote is not a practical idea for various reasons. First, it should be evident that the purpose of elections is to elect a government, not simply express vague dissatisfaction. At one level, voters will always be dissatisfied, and they ought to be. But negative dissatisfaction is not an answer to the question of who should rule. Second, there are already many ways of expressing dissatisfaction. A more sensible way to expand voter choice would be through enabling more people to run for public office. This requires two things: more sensible campaign reforms and better inner-party democracy. Third, establishing the legitimacy of candidates is an ongoing process. Registering negative votes will inhibit elected legislators from claiming the minimal legitimacy they need.

Negative voting can also take many forms. One is a none of the above option. Or one could be given a choice to vote for a candidate or against another. The against votes can then be subtracted from a candidates tally of positive votes. This could ensure candidates with high negatives arent elected, but it does not affect the responsibility of electing someone in particular, rather than expressing generalised dissatisfaction. We are not endorsing this idea, but simply noting even the term negative is vague and we have to be clear what we are trying to capture. On balance, negative voting smacks more of a negative attitude to politics than a constructive attitude to reform.