Gujarat’s compulsory voting full of difficulties: EC


New Delhi: The Election Commission Tuesday termed the Gujarat government’s move to make voting compulsory in local body elections as “full of difficulties” even as the issue has evoked a larger national debate in the country.

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“Such proposals had come up for discussion in the commission on many occasions earlier. For India, it is full of difficulties,” Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi told reporters here Tuesday when asked to comment on the issue.

The Gujarat assembly Saturday passed a bill making voting compulsory in elections to all local bodies in the state, which Chief Minister Narendra Modi termed a “historic move to strengthen democracy”.

Quraishi said: “We consider that democracy and compulsion do not go hand in hand.”

He said the commission was concerned that 40 percent of the 714 million voters in the country does not vote. “It is a a matter of concern to the Commission,” he said.

Quraishi, however, said the best way to address the problem was to educate the voters.

“… voter education could be a better option to enthuse them. The commission is engaged in roping in youth, particularly college and school students, to enhance voter awareness.”

On Monday, Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla had also said there were difficulties in making voting compulsory in the country due to the huge size of the electorate.

While the Congress and Left parties have opposed the Gujarat government’s move, it has got strong support from Rashtriya Janata Dal (JDU) chief and former railway minister Lalu Prasad.

Favouring the move, Lalu Prasad has said that mandatory voting was needed to tackle falling voter turnout not just in municipal polls but also in parliamentary elections.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the ruling party in Gujarat, welcomed the move, saying that national discussion should be conducted on replicating the state’s model.

Describing the move as “innovative and useful”, senior BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu said the modalities of experimenting with it in other states should be discussed.

According to the new bill, all registered voters in Gujarat will be required to vote. Those absent will be asked to submit a valid reason with proof within a month.

The bill empowers the election officer to declare people who do not vote as defaulter voters. They shall have an opportunity to present their case within a month.

Exemption will be granted on account of illness, absence from the country or the state on the polling day and for any other reason prescribed by the state.