Right to Recall
Recently Haryana cleared the Bill on right to recall panchayat members.
Can the right to recall improve electoral representation? Examine.
The right to recall a legislator is a direct democratic method for removing an elected representative from ofﬁce for his/her non-performance or misuse of the position. A recall election is typically a process by which voters seek to remove elected officials through a direct vote before their term is completed.
The Right to recall in India:
● This is not a new concept for India. The concept of “Rajdharma”, wherein the lack of effective governance was a cause for the removal of a king, has been spoken about since the Vedic times.
● Section 47 of the Chhattisgarh Nagar Palika Act, 1961, provides for the holding of elections to recall elected officials due to non-performance. The Right to Recall also exists at local level bodies in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh.
● Nearly a decade ago, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee sought the introduction of a system of a “Right to Recall” of a legislator to ensure accountability.
Need for the right to recall:
● Electoral representation is based on the assumption that voters should be able to get rid of unsatisfying representatives, and the recall is supposed to make this easier, thereby increasing the incentives faced by representatives to care about public opinion.
● There exists no recourse for the electorate if they are unhappy with their elected representative.
➢ The Representation of the People Act, 1951, only provides for “vacation of office upon the commission of certain offences and does not account for general incompetence of the representatives or dissatisfaction of the electorate as a ground for vacation”.
● Such a right would be a significant check on corruption along with the ongoing criminalisation of politics.
● The recall provides for continuous accountability so that voters need not wait until the next election to rid themselves of an incompetent, dishonest, unresponsive, or irresponsible public official.
Issues with the right to recall:
● It is often seen that right to recall has been primarily misused as a tool in the hands of the dominant castes against candidates belonging to the weaker sections, and women.
● Voters may reward or sanction representatives for things they are not responsible for, such as droughts, floods or a suddenly changing economic dynamic in the months preceding an election.
● A recall would demand the representatives to always keep their respective electorates happy, which would force these representatives to succumb to populist pressure.
● The most fundamental argument against the right to recall is that it can lead to an ‘excess of democracy’ where the independence of representatives will go down due to the perpetual threat of being recalled.
● There is always a question of the practicability of conducting a recall which would involve enormous amounts of money, manpower, time etc.
● The evidence that the availability of recall mechanisms leads to more responsiveness and accountability is not clearly established.
● Frequent recalls might then lead to polarization and mutual hatred between opposing parties, provoking “spirals of ever more vitriolic recall campaigns.
● It poses a risk of conflict, distrust among communities and political instability.
Loopholes for such abuse need to be removed to make the right to recall a democratic tool that will ensure accountability.
● The recall process should have several built-in safeguards such as an initial recall petition to kick-start the process and electronic-based voting to finally decide its outcome.
● Furthermore, it should ensure that a representative cannot be recalled by a small margin of voters and that the recall procedure truly represents the mandate of the people.
● To ensure transparency and independence, chief petition officersfrom within the Election Commission should be designated to supervise and execute the process.
When their elected representatives no longer enjoy the confidence of the people, the people must have a right to remove them. This right would help engender direct democracy in our country, broadening access and raising inclusiveness. However, the idea to have recall elections does not seem to be the best idea when we already have other measures to ensure good governance. The focus should be on reviving the existing measures as well as finding solutions to the root cause of having poor quality of representation in the first place.