NEW DELHI- India’s Supreme Court recognised Friday the right of voters to reject all candidates contesting polls, seen as a key reform ahead of general elections due next year.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam asked the election commission to change electronic voting machine ballots to give voters a choice of “none of the above”.
“Democracy is all about choices and voters will be empowered by this right of negative voting,” he said, ruling on a petition by the non-profit People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
“Negative voting will send a clear signal to political parties and candidates as to what the voters think about them.”
Until now, voters had no right to reject candidates despite demands from activists to create such a provision.
The court noted that at least 13 other nations follow the practice of “electronic abstention”.
The right to reject the choices will “foster purity in electoral politics”, Sathasivam said.
Voting machines are likely to be changed to conform with the court ruling in time for five state elections in November.
General elections are due by May 2014.
“This is a positive message from the court. It sends a message to political parties to pick only clean candidates,” lawyer Sanjay Parikh told reporters outside the Supreme Court.
Activists have also been pushing for authorities to hold new elections if over 50 percent of voters reject all candidates.
Veteran anti-graft activist Anna Hazare has been a vocal campaigner for recognising the right to reject candidates as well as the right to recall an elected representative on the grounds of unsatisfactory performance.
However, the national Congress government argues elections are meant to elect and not reject candidates, saying offering such choices will only confuse voters.