Right to recall a dangerous idea

Avinash K. Mishra | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 19, 2011


Chief Election Commissioner S. Y. Quraishi and Anna Hazare…differing views on right to recall.

Virtually all MPs or MLAs would be vulnerable, given the nature of the process. This would have unfortunate social and political consequences.

The debate regarding the representative character of our politicians has led to knee-jerk reformists such as Anna Hazare and his band of followers demanding the right to recall. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Mr S. Y. Quraishi, has rightly opposed the idea, on the ground that it cannot be implemented and that it could “destabilise” the country in areas “where people already feel alienated”. But the demand also doesn't have basis for another reason — it could undermine the democratic rights of a number of individuals and communities in a pluralist society such as ours.

The practice of right to recall, or recall referendum, or representative recall exists in Switzerland, the US, the UK, Canada, Venezuela, among others, but there isn't enough evidence to suggest that it should be accepted as an inevitable character of democracies across the globe.


Election simply means translating votes or converting citizens' will into members of a legislative body and further as heads of state. India accepted the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) method of elections, where the winning candidate needs to get just one vote more than his nearest rival, irrespective of whether he gets 50 per cent of the votes cast plus one vote or not. This method was adopted on the grounds of being simple, and bringing about speedy outcomes. However, over the years it has been criticised for electing people to power despite their getting a small share of votes.


As the CEC rightly said, elections are a tedious and complex process. Can a candidate be recalled when the possibility of his/her being elected with 50 per cent plus 1 of the votes cast is so marginal?

Applying the right to recall to the current Lok Sabha members on the condition of a minimum requirement of 50 per cent plus 1 vote would imply that almost all the MPs will end up being recalled at any point in time. This is because when votes are cast to recall a candidate, it would always be a bi-polar decision, since the recall ballot will offer only two options, ‘yes' and ‘no'. The option of ‘recall' has already been tried out at panchayat levels in the states of Punjab (1994), Bihar (2010), Madhya Pradesh (2000), Maharashtra and Chhatisgarh (2004), but it hasn't produced any good results.

On the contrary, experience tells that it has been primarily misused as a tool in the hands of the dominant castes against candidates belonging to the weaker sections, and women.


Suggesting reforms in electoral system, the Law Commission of India, in 1999, had proposed an alternative method for elections, that could make the provision of winning the majority (50 percent plus 1) of the votes cast mandatory for the candidates. This meant that if no candidate received more than half the votes in an election conducted through FPTP, it would be followed by a second or run-off ballot slip, in which only the top two candidates of the first count would be allowed to contest. This run-off ballot, in practice primarily in presidential elections rather than for legislative bodies in different parts of the globe, no doubt ensures the election of a candidate with a majority. But the Commission's proposal to include the option for ‘negative voting', makes the process more tedious, and thus hasn't been considered seriously.

The present CEC's dissatisfaction on inclusion of both the options of ‘right to reject' and ‘right to recall' in electoral reforms is, therefore, genuine in view of the complexities in the electoral process. But his support for the introduction of Rule 49(O), for expressing displeasure over candidates, can become another area of concern.


If Anna's formula of right to recall becomes commonplace, it would only add to the instability of governments, by empowering not those who win elections, but those who lose. With a society so deeply-embedded in castes, sub-castes, religions and sects, the idea of not waiting for five years for the next election and bringing in recall at the drop of a hat, would eventually amount to undermining the very essence of Indian democracy.

Our democracy has matured with the years under the FPTP method, and despite its limitations, has successfully catapulted parties of the weaker sections such as Bahujan Samaj Party to power. Knee-jerk proposals such as right to recall betray a poor understanding of the electoral system.

Published on October 19, 2011
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