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June 19, 2018

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NOTA option to pull more voters in election

PESHAWAR: With over fifteen thousand, mostly old candidates, filed nominations to contest in the upcoming elections and prevailing political culture in which the political parties are being run in somewhat a “tribal manner” the earnest desire for NOTA option has started remerging among the voters.

"None of the above”, or NOTA for short, also known as "against all" or a "scratch" vote, is a ballot option, designed to allow the voters to disapprove all of the candidates in any election. It is based on the principle of withholding consent in an election by voting “No” on ballot questions.

Owing to the unpopular policies of the mainstream political parties and dubious reputations of political leaders for a number of reasons including dual nationality, loans write off, switching sides, a renewed debate has started building around the idea of NOTA just one and half month before the elections months.

It is not for the first time such an option has come under a spotlight in the country. In the previous election held in 2013, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced that an empty box would be introduced in the ballot paper for NOTA allowing the voters to reject all contesting candidates in a constituency. It had even sent the case to the government to approve the same through proper legislation.

However, the matter was opposed by the government and the ECP subsequently shelved it. The opposition parties also adopted a meaningful silence over the matter.

The ECP or other organization did not bother to move the Supreme Court for the purpose on the pattern of India where the Indian Election Commission told the Supreme Court in 2009 that it wished to offer the voter a "none of the above" option on ballots, which the government had generally opposed.

A non-governmental organisation filed public interest litigation and on September 27, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to register a "none of the above" vote in elections should apply, and ordered the Election Commission to provide such a button in the electronic voting machines, noting that it would increase participation.

In the following elections in the 2014, the NOTA polled 1.1 percent of the votes, counting to over six million. However, it had no effect whatsoever in the election in the largest democracy of the region.

In our country, Ajmal Khan, a political activist lamented, even in the much-talked-about election reforms bill the matter was not considered by any of the political parties as none of them wanted to give the voters right to go against all those contesting in the elections.

NOTA is not new to the political system. Apart from India it also exists as in Greece, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Spain, Colombia and Russia. It has even been introduced in Bangladesh. A trader and business community leader, Muhammad Ishaq said, “All these nations at one stage had gone through a political system like the one we are going through right now.”

He said that the political parties feared that if the NOTA was listed on a ballot, there would be the possibility of it (NOTA) receiving a majority or plurality of the vote. If the NOTA gets 51 percent vote it would render the entire election invalid, he added.

However, it (inclusion of NOTA option) would lead to a better participation and the parties would also nominate better people to contest, Ishaq added. It would even pull those voters to the polling stations who hate to vote for the contesting candidates, he further argued.

Gohar Ali, belonging to an urban constituency, told The News, that almost all potential winning candidates for his home National and provincial assembly constituencies were the turncoats and he did not want vote for any of them. I want to vote against all of them, but I have no ballot option for the purpose, he lamented.

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