Being a science student, it was a first of its kind experience for me to attend a conference on political and electoral reforms. Thanks to senthil anna who posted the information about this conference on his facebook page. As a sincere follower of present day current affairs and politics in our country, I was triggered to participate in this conference with a quest to learn many aspects as I am still a beginner in political course.
Conference was organized by National Election Watch (NEW) and Association for Democratic Reform (ADR). What a perfect time to host this event! when five states are gearing up for assembly election in near future. As I proceed with the highlights of some of the important sessions of conference, we can understand the essence and prime purpose of this meet. The inauguration function was organized big with all the national and local media attendance; thanks to present and former CECs like Mr.Qureshi, Mr.Gopalswamy and many other officials of election commission. Immediately after inauguration, first session had a total of seven talks covering many aspects of electoral process. It was really the brilliant session in my view which included the direct interaction between participants and higher electoral officials. In particular, CEC Mr.Qureshi was kind enough to spend half a day in the conference and answer most of the questions by himself posted by the participants. Let me highlight the important issues which were discussed in this two day conference.
The main topic of discussion was 49-O. Many suggested that 49-O can be included as one of the button in the present ballot instead of voting for it seperately by giving the voter's details. CEC Qureshi replied that this notion is now in the form of political bill and political parties are not ready to pass this bill to turn it as reality. This clearly shows that politicians are really afraid of 49-O. There was a difference of opinions on the issue of 49-O. CEC Qureshi expressed his view on 49-O as negative voting and it is of no use. But he also stated that election commission encourages 49-O on the other side to stop the misuse of votes of non-voters by political parties. Few refuted the idea of considering 49-O as negative voting. They clearly said that in the long term process, if the percentage of 49-O voting is higher, then it will pave way for the political parties to think from their side to reform their principles and also to propose good candidates in the election.
The use of money power was the next major issue that was widely discussed. Almost all the participants and election commission officials expressed their concern on the selling of votes by the public. It was discussed only as the wrong method adapted by the politicians and not as the mistake of public to get money. But few suggestions were given like taking this issue to public by means of media awareness and also the volunteer actions of people concerned about this. All the participants agreed that they would do their level best to bring the awareness of money power and to stop the misuse of that in the elections.
One session was dedicated to the political reforms in which politicians from various parties were also participated for interaction. The topic of discussion was inner political democracy and transparency of financial accounts of political parties. It was of no surprise that no politicians except Mr.D.Raja talked about the above points but only focussed on "this and thats" of their parties. Even politicians showed their angry when a valid question was pointed at them. As a highlight painful comedy, T.K.S. Elangovan criticized the people for getting money to vote. He is from the party which mastered this art of money power to buy the people and he criticized the people for the same. Disgusting! The interaction of politicians clearly conveyed that no party is ready to reform their political principles as they stand that their party's present condition is very principled and always focussed on the welfare of people.
When one person suggested that interested volunteers and ngo's can be allowed to involve in election activities instead of government employers during the polling time, CEC Qureshi said that if it is allowed, many fake NGO's and volunteers will come from the political parties side to misuse that provision. He also told that government employees are the perfect choice as their job security is in the hands of election commission through government and thereby prevent them to indulge in wrong activities, which is not guaranteed when the volunteers and NGO's are allowed to involve... a real valid point!
The role of corporate people in the political ground was also discussed. The major source of income for the political parties comes from the corporate companies as a key of token for getting their work done easily. Only because of the corporate peoples, the political parties get so much of money as donation which is later used by the political parties to show their money power during election. So, election commission officials told that there should be some limitations imposed on the level of amount that can be given as donation to the political parties.
I also learnt that the electoral reform process will reach new heights if the election commission is given all the powers to make rules independent of government. Election commission has its own limitations in making regulations and rules in view of electoral reform and even if they make or propose, it cannot be realized in practice due to the pressure and blockage given by the political parties especially the ruling government (which again a political party). Surely election commission should be given all the power as a separate body like SEBI which will bring about significant change.
Let me list out some of the resolutions made in the conference.
1) First and foremost is to work hard for bringing the awareness against the use of money power to buy the voters.
2) To increase the percentage of voting (achieve 100% voting) through campaign especially in urban areas where the level of voting is poorer than the rural areas.
3) To use the Right to Information (RTI) act efficiently to bring transparency to keep a track on the political parties expenses in the election.
4) To provide the valid information anytime to a 24x7 call center specially set up by the election commission regarding the misuse of money by the political parties.
5) To use the social networks and modern technology like cell phone(sms), email, facebook, twitter, orkut etc. to bring the awareness of voting and misuse of money.
On the whole, this two day conference was a new learning experience all the way for me.