None of the above

Mridul Chowdhury

Published by the Daily Star on 21 Dec 2008.

LIKE many, I am divided on the No-Vote option. On the one hand, this is possibly our only way to send a strong message to the party bigwigs to nominate better candidates; on the other, there is a risk of critical votes getting wasted, since it is next to impossible that the number of no-votes will reach the threshold needed for a re-election in the constituency.

And if we assume that there is a fair possibility that perhaps a majority of the people who will cast a no-vote may be more progressive-minded who think beyond party lines, then it is fair to say that the votes that would have gone to the relatively more progressive end will go uncounted.

Both arguments are valid and strong. So how should we go about evaluating the No-Vote option?

In my humble opinion, these are the issues that we have to ask ourselves when deciding on the No-Vote option:

– The No-Vote can be potentially effective if it is part of a well-organised campaign that will send a clear message to the parties why their candidates fall short of people’s expectations and what they should do differently next time. If it is not part of an organised campaign, the number of no-votes cast may be small and it will not have the intended outcomes — the parties will not learn anything and the valuable votes may just go to waste.

– A well-organised No-Vote campaign has to be based on a specific issue or a charge that disqualifies the candidates in the constituency for becoming law-makers. One example of an organised No-Vote is taking place in Dinajpur-6 where protesters feel that the rights of indigenous people have been trampled upon by both major parties.

– Some frustrated voters (especially the younger ones) may be inclined to look at the candidates from the major parties and if they don’t like what they see, they may decide to cast a no-vote as a protest. In this, there is the danger that they will not explore the possibility of looking into options of independent candidates or from smaller parties. The voters should do the due diligence in finding out about all candidates before deciding on a no-vote.

– In constituencies where there is a candidate from a major party, who is either an alleged war criminal or an alleged corrupt politician widely believed to have plundered and exploited, then it may be pragmatic to cast a vote for some other party. Since now almost all the top-brass politicians charged and held for corruption in the last two years are back in the playing-field, the responsibilities on the shoulders of voters have increased tremendously to make the right choice. In these cases, no-votes without an organised issue-based campaign may not have a positive impact and worse yet, it may even favour the candidate of questionable repute, thus defeating the entire purpose of the voter’s no-vote to begin with.

– Another point to take into consideration is that for this election, there is not a lot of time to organise the No-Vote campaign. However, the No-Vote may be a more effective means of protest in the next election when there will be enough time to get organized and send a meaningful message to the parties that may actually make some difference.

One of the flaws of democratic elections, that we have to live with, is that it gives us choices that we may not be happy with and worse yet, it sometimes produces outcomes that are ironically not necessarily a reflection of what majority of the people actually want. Even one of the most widely hailed democracies in the world, such as the US, produced someone like Bush as the president in 2000 despite the fact that Al Gore got more total number of votes than Bush did nation-wide.

The hard truth is that the No-Vote alone may not make a big difference in terms of our election outcomes, unless it is part of a long-term issue-based campaign. The negative effects of ad hoc, uncoordinated casting of no-votes may outweigh the possible positive effects. That is why, in this election, it would be very important to weigh our options and the consequences of our votes and, more importantly, our no-votes before we go to the election booths.


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