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Old December 22nd, 2009, 12:06 AM
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Talking As Expected - Election Comission Opposes Modi Move

Narendra Modi's law on compulsory voting fails to enthuse election commission

New Delhi: Narendra Modi government's law to make voting compulsory in local body polls in Gujarat has failed to make a cut with the Election Commission (EC) which says the extending the idea across the country is "impracticable".

"Such proposals had come up for discussion in the Commission on many occasions earlier. For India, it is full of difficulties. We also consider that democracy and compulsion do not go hand-in-hand," election commissioner SY Quraishi said.

Pointing out that 40 per cent of the 714 million voters do not vote, he said people not coming out to exercise their franchise was a matter of concern to the Commission. However, voter education could be a better option to enthuse voters and the Commission is engaged in roping in youth, particularly college and school students, to enhance voter awareness.

"It is a good idea, a noble idea. A welcome move. But whether this is implementable in places like India is a big question mark," former senior EC official KJ Rao said.

Because of law, the percentage of voting may increase, but effective implementation would be impracticable, Rao, known for conducting free and fair elections in Bihar, said. He wanted to know how the measure would be put into practice and whether a voter would be fined and jailed for non-compliance.

Noting that 13 of the 32 countries, where voting has been made compulsory, were not enforcing the law, he said adding that launching of an awareness campaign among people to exercise their franchise could be effective.

Another EC official, who did not want to be identified, asked how this could be implemented among the poor who would prefer "feeding their kids to voting in an election. "Will you jail them for not voting?".

Gujarat assembly last week passed The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, which makes, for the first time in the country, voting mandatory in civic body and panchayat polls.

Under the bill, if a voter fails to vote for the reasons other than prescribed in the rules, he may be declared a "defaulter voter" and would face consequences for which rules will be framed and placed before the assembly for its approval later.
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