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Anna's next target is electoral reform
ABHIMANYU SINGH  New Delhi | 17th Apr 2011

Social activist Anna Hazare with other members of Joint Lokpal Drafting Committee during a meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. PHOTO: ABHISHEK SHUKLA

he next item on Anna Hazare's agenda is electoral reform.

"No government has ever debated these issues. We will initiate this," says Swami Agnivesh, a key aide of Anna Hazare and founding member of India Against Corruption. Although he rules out starting a "direct movement" till the new Lokpal bill is formulated, the issue of electoral reforms will be added to the main issue of corruption, he says. "We will take it to the public to create awareness."

IAC organised the anti-corruption protests at Jantar Mantar and forced the government to constitute a Joint Drafting Committee, with five members of the civil society in it, to come up with a new Lokpal Bill. The JDC is supposed to finish the work by 30 June so that the bill can be passed in the Monsoon Session of the Parliament, before 15 August, as demanded by Anna Hazare, who is also on the panel.

The Chief Election Commissioner recently came out in the support of Anna Hazare's decision to focus on electoral reforms, although he differed on the two specific provisions of right to recall and neutral/negative voting, questioning their effectiveness.

Prashant Bhushan, another associate of Anna Hazare, who is on the JDC panel, believes electoral reforms are essential to pursue, along with drafting of the Lokpal bill. However, he is not sure about how helpful the none-of-the-above option — also called negative/neutral voting — would be. Anna Hazare wants the said option to be included along with names of candidates, so that voters are not forced to choose a candidate they don't like. He also seeks scrapping of the result in case the said option gets maximum votes. "The same candidates will return," says Prashant Bhushan. He supports the right to recall of candidates, but believes it will be difficult to implement.

T.S. Krishnamurthy, ex- CEC, had written to Manmohan Singh in 2004, suggesting "a provision enabling a voter rejecting all the candidates in the constituency, if he doesn't find them suitable."

Shanti Bhushan, co-chairperson of the JDC, who was working on electoral reforms as part of a four member committee which included L.K. Advani, during his tenure as Law Minister in the Janata government, extends full support to Anna's proposed next campaign, including the two specific provisions mentioned above. "Very extensive reforms need to be made. It was my ministry's subject. We held several meetings. But before we could complete the process, the government ceased to exist."

Citing money power as a major hindrance in conducting free and fair elections, he recounts campaigning for Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shashtri in Allahabad in elections held in 1957 and 62 respectively, wherein "hardly any money was spent."

Criminalisation of politics is also a major concern, he says. He wants cases in which politicians face serious charges like murder, for example, to be put on a "fast track".

M.C. Raj, who heads Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India, holds a more radical opinion. He wants the first-past-the-post-system, which exists in India, to be abolished in favour of the proportional representation system. In first-past-the-post system, candidates who have very little percentage of votes also win because of splitting of votes in many parts. "Only five candidates in the present Lok Sabha have polled more than 50 % of votes," he says. Proportional representation, in which parties send candidates to parliament and assembly based on the percentage of votes they gather, thereby ensuring the participation of all parties with a fair share of votes, would put an end to the "cut-throat" politics of money and criminalisation being practiced today.

Prashant Bhushan agrees that proportional representation is a more democratic idea. Shanti Bhushan was already working on a similar system in the past, which had elements of both the concepts.

It is for Anna to decide now whether he wants to go for a structural overhaul of the electoral system, apart from incorporating in it the two particular remedies he has suggested.

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