But in a representative democracy, the 'No Vote' is not an answer to the problems that plague our democratic system.
Such an option was introduced in Bangladesh, during the recent parliamentary election there in December 2008. I was privileged to have been invited as one of the international election observers during that election. We found that only a fraction of 1% of voters cast their ballot in favour of the "None of the Above".
The reason is not too difficult to fathom. An astonishing 85% of the people had turned out to vote on December 29, 2008. Most of them were poor. And most of them turned out in hope that the election would throw up better leaders, better solutions to the their problems, better opportunities for themselves and their country. Voting "No" would have undermined the democratic process itself.
Following is an editorial in Indian Express (30 Jan 2009), calling for a rethink on the "None of the Above".
Indian Express - Editorial
The question posed in the Supreme Court for the Central Government was straightforward. Does the right to vote, the bench asked the government counsel this week while hearing a petition on the subject, include the right to not vote? The reference was not abstention from voting, but the demand by the petitioner that the election ballot have an option for the voter to register her discontent with the fray by hitting a “none of the above” button. The counsel duly registered the government’s reservations about the reform, and in due course other respondents will make their submissions.
Negative voting is an idea that catches the imagination every few years. But there is ample reason to ask whether it is a proposal that is not only problematic in itself, but also whether it is cited as a solution to a misidentified problem. The case presumably is that by being given an imperfect choice the voter is constrained to cast a positive vote for the best of bad options. The “none of the above” button would put the fray on notice that they are not up to standard. Put simply, the reform would capture the public mood. How can that be wrong?It can. The point of electoral democracy is to get the best possible outcome for viable governance, that is a government that derives its legitimacy from the expressed will of the people. Certainly norms are necessary for candidature. Of late there has been reform like compulsory declaration of assets and criminal records. There needs to be more — importantly, on intra-party democracy, so that lists of candidates are not the reflection of purely backroom dealings. But even in the best case scenario, human nature being what it is, is there any guarantee that the voter will be satisfied with the fray? And if a substantial chunk of the votes cast are for “none of the above”, then what? Is that an inducement for that mythical perfect candidate to make an appearance? May it not instead deny the winning candidate the legitimacy needed to be an effective legislator? In any case, in a democracy, the people should never be fully satisfied with the legislatures they get. They must always be impatient to get the best out of their elected representatives.