The right to reject is a form of protest voting in which the voter gets to say no to all the candidates in an election. As voting is the formal expression of an opinion of the people in a democratic process, the right to reject is also a way of expressing their beliefs and choices
Nepal has been on quite a political rollercoaster in the past few months.
From the parliament getting dissolved twice and then getting restored, to the appointment of Sher Bahadur Deuba as the Prime Minister once again, there have been numerous changes. However, whatever took place was neither new nor unusual for most Nepalis. It is not the first time that a ruling party has preferred to cling onto power over national development, and it certainly is not the first time that our current PM Deuba has been appointed to this position.
The country's politics is trapped in a never-ending drama of the same faces from the mainstream parties holding power decade after decade.
And parties supposedly trying to promote alternative politics are stuck in their own internal divides, hence the people have been hesitant in putting their trust in them. Even though there are choices of candidates during elections, the lack of viable ones has weakened our democracy.
The people are frustrated with their representatives, and this can change only if the parties are to be held answerable to the people for their nominations.
In any democracy, the ultimate power is given to the people through their voting rights.
But, in a country like ours, where the political parties file the same nominees in all the elections time and again, the true sense of democracy is lost as there is no power with the people, when all we can do is choose the best candidate from a batch of incompetent ones.
People do not want to go through the tiresome voting process again and again, only to vote for someone half-heartedly.
People are, therefore, not enthusiastic to vote because of this, which affects voter turnout.
The right to reject is a form of protest voting in which the voter gets to say no to all the candidates in an election. As voting is the formal expression of an opinion of the people in a democratic process, the right to reject is also a way of expressing their beliefs and choices.
This right is based on the principle that just as consent can be given to exercise the right to vote, it can also be withheld. It is, therefore, considered an essential component of freedom of expression and opinion.
This right broadens the options of the voters in a democracy, allowing them to denounce all the candidates if they think they are incapable of bringing the necessary changes.
This would ideally increase the accountability of the political parties, driving them to nominate more competent candidates.
On January 5, 2014, the Supreme Court of Nepal gave a landmark decision on this issue.
Holding that the right to not vote was an inalienable part of the right to vote, it ordered the concerned authorities to include the NOTA, or None of the Above, option in future elections.
In this progressive judgment, the apex court stated that the people's right to show their dissatisfaction towards the candidates is what ensures the proper participation of the people in a democracy, and a government formed without the enforcement of this right could not be accepted as a legitimate government.
Despite this order and rationale, the NOTA provision is yet to be introduced in our elections.
While the significance of the right to reject cannot be denied, it is equally important to consider its consequences, especially for a nascent democracy like ours. A juxtaposition can be drawn between the politics of Nepal and India. In India, NOTA was enforced from 2014.
Despite this, even if NOTA receives majority of the votes, the candidate who receives the highest number of votes after NOTA, that is, more votes than the other candidates, wins the elections. It is, therefore, believed that this is not the right to reject in its true sense.
While this form of the right to reject may be symbolic in showcasing the inadequacy of the candidates, it would do little to change the status quo, especially in a country with politicians like ours, many of whom are notorious for their stubbornness and lack of will to work beyond their personal motivations.
They are unlikely to be held any more accountable if their seats are to be assured despite their loss.
The most effective recourse would be to conduct a re-election if the NOTA option gets majority of the votes.
This way, when the people abstain from voting for any of the candidates, the parties will not be able to escape from their responsibilities any further.
On the other hand, the voters themselves may not always be fair while casting their votes, and this decision, for a lot of people, has less to do with the aptitude of the candidates and more to do with their individual gains.
Adequate voter education combined with the enforcement of the right to reject can bring changes in this trend as well. When the people realise that their votes can lead to a better collective future, they, too, become more conscious in voting for the candidates based on their capabilities, rather than vote for the sake of voting.
This is especially important now, when a lot of people are reconsidering whether to vote at all as no matter which party rules, the situation shows no improvement.
People are the most important part of a democracy.
This right makes their voices feel heard, and thus, promotes their active involvement in national politics.
Conducting an election is expensive, and holding a re-election, that too without any assurance of a better outcome, would raise the stakes too high for the taxpayer. However, this is a risk we should be willing to take and trust that this would be a heavy one-time investment, which would at least save us the cost of our nation's future.
If a re-election could propel substantive changes in the long run with more capable candidates being nominated by the parties, it could be a viable option.
It might take a while to enforce this right to its maximum capacity, but first putting it down in the laws would definitely be a good start.
A version of this article appears in the print on August 30 2021, of The Himalayan Times.