A citizen’s right to vote is what keeps any democratic system alive. While the voting system differs from one country to another, one thing that is ubiquitous is the right to vote and like the diligent citizens, we prepare ourselves by registering to vote, traveling and then queuing up for hours just to cast a vote, learning the ‘how-tos’ of voting (especially by the first time voters), and for some of us, by volunteering before and during the election period to ensure that others exercise their right to vote as well.
So imagine a voter’s disappointment after all that work on having to vote for a candidate they don’t even like. Instead of being forced to choose the ‘less worse’ amongst the worst, the citizens could choose none of the above—NOTA. NOTA is the option to reject voting on the ballot paper on instances where a voter doesn’t agree with the parties and their candidates running for elections or does not deem them eligible for their positions in government.
‘White Vote,’ ‘Blank Vote,’ and ‘Against All’ are few nomenclature NOTA goes by worldwide. In 2014, Supreme Court of Nepal ordered the government and the Election Commission to include NOTA as an option in future elections but our ballot paper till this day remains devoid of it as no progress has been made ever since.
These days, the decision to not vote is not an uncommon stance in Nepal, especially to young people who believe that politics is a dirty game, or to those that dislike old, regular and usually under/unqualified candidates being repeated and shoved to the voters multiple times. It is almost the violation of universal suffrage when people have no choice to outvote candidates they dislike even when they don’t feel represented by those candidates during elections. Voting is about addressing the aspirations of people. So when these people are dissatisfied with the candidate structure in the election, they must be allowed to not agree with that structure.
It is not so in Nepal. The order of the Supreme Court has been blatantly ignored and as such there is no provision for NOTA in our ballot paper. The voters are still compelled to vote, whether they want to or not whether they like the candidates or not, which more often than not results in them voting for the wrong candidates.
Why do we keep subjecting voters with the same candidates that have been in the running since their first election or at times, even their father’s and grandfather’s first election?
Should not the voters be allowed to exercise their right to vote with NOTA rather than abstaining from voting altogether without it? At least this way, everyone knows what the citizens want. After all, democracy is rooted in ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ concept. NOTA allows a voter to reject candidates by not refraining from the democratic process of voting.
So why isn’t this option included in our ballot paper yet? Well, there can be a few reasons.
First is the fear of being rejected. When India introduced NOTA in their 2013 state election, over 1.5 million people voted in favor of NOTA. When for their Parliamentary Election in 2012, Serbia created a party called None Of The Above Party (as a solution for the absence of the right to reject in their ballots), it ran, fought and won a seat in Parliament. The 2018 mayoral election in Indonesia had a similar outcome where NOTA defeated the candidate which resulted in re-election. The most notable example is the expulsion of communist regimes from Russia (1991) and Poland (1989) where NOTA single-handedly changed the course of history.
The second (and quite silly) reason is again the notion that NOTA will influence people in such ways that they will vote for it by abandoning their preconceived choice of candidate just because “everyone else is doing so.” Let’s stop treating our citizens as sheep and acknowledge and respect their intellect and their right to vote.
‘None of the above’ (NOTA) option allows a voter to reject candidates by not refraining from the democratic process of voting. This option has not been included in our ballot paper, despite the Supreme Court’s order to do so, because our leaders fear being rejected by the people.
The third reason is the fear mongering by those who are in power (and want to remain in power) with the “threat” of wasting the taxpayer’s money that a re-election may cause. It is true that elections are funded by the taxpayer’s money. Then shouldn’t these taxpayers get to decide where their money goes? They may decide to let their money go to better and more qualified candidates that can actually lead our country even at the cost of re-election than old leaders, bad leaders, wrong leaders and corrupt leaders. All we’re asking for is this right to decide, the right to reject.
Can we chalk up our government’s hesitancy in including NOTA to its own lack of confidence in leading the country? Is our government scared of being rejected so badly that it takes away its citizens’ right to do so? Isn’t it time the voters choose what they want or don’t want than being forced to choose one wrong representative for them from other wrong representatives? Why do we keep subjecting voters with the same candidates that have been in the running since their first election or at times, even their father’s and grandfather’s first election?
Nepal happens to be one of the countries to never have had voter partiality. Ever since Nepalis could vote, every Nepali could vote. Why not take the next step and finally include NOTA on our ballot papers once and for all? Why not let our citizens exercise democracy in a real sense?
Will we get to outvote all candidates in the upcoming election if they deserve to be outvoted? Is the Election Commission doing anything about executing the Supreme Court’s order of 2014? Will it?
The author is a secretariat member of Bibeksheel Sajha Party. He also leads the party’s youth wing.