Insights into Editorial: The right to recall legislators

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Insights into Editorial: The right to recall legislators 


recall

Summary:

More than five years after anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare sought empowerment of people with right to recall elected representatives, BJP MP Varun Gandhi has raised the same issue through a private members’ bill in the Lok Sabha.

 

Key facts:

  • The bill has sought an amendment to the election rules to introduce right to recall parliamentarians and legislators if 75% of their voters are dissatisfied with their performance, taking a leaf from the existing practice in some countries abroad.
  • The draft legislation proposes that the process to recall an elected representative can be invoked by a constituency voter by approaching the Speaker. The petition seeking annulment of the membership of an MP or an MLA should be signed by at least one-fourth of the total number of electors in that seat.

 

What is Recall?

Recall is basically a process whereby the electorate has the power to remove the elected officials before the expiry of their usual term. Thus, recall confers on the electorate the power to actually ‘de-elect’ their representatives from the legislature through a direct vote initiated when a minimum number of voters registered in the electoral role sign a petition to recall.

 

Need for the Right to Recall:

  • 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”.
  • Logic and justice necessitate that if the people have the power to elect their representatives, they should also have the power to remove these representatives when they engage in misdeeds or fail to fulfil the duties.
  • The right to recall is a democratic tool which ensures a ‘greater accountability’ in the political system as the electorate retains control over those legislators who are underperforming or are misusing their office for their selfish gains.
  • Having such a right offers a mechanism to ensure vertical accountability. Such a right would be a significant check on corruption along with ongoing criminalisation of politics.
  • Additionally, it is also argued that having the system of recall will deter candidates from spending crores of money in campaigning for the elections because they will always have a fear of being recalled. Apart from this, some proponents of recall perceive it as an ‘option’ to correct wrong decisions without having to wait for the next five years.

 

Arguments against right to recall:

  • The most fundamental argument against 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.
  • Apart from this, to escape a recall would demand the representatives to always keep their respective electorates happy, which would force these representatives to succumb to the populist pressure.
  • It would inevitably discourage the representatives from using their own judgment and coming up with tough but unpopular stands rather than the populist ones, which militates against the fact that we are a representative democracy wherein MPs and MLAs rise above the local duties and undertake national and state-level ‘duties’ respectively. Such tying up of representatives to their electorates is inherently detrimental to the larger public interest and hence should be avoided at any cost.
  • Additionally, having a recall system in India would not only create unnecessary chaos due to recurring recall election, but also would destabilise the government. Recall in a country like India would be very vulnerable to abuse by influential political groups and would give us those criminals as our leaders who could use strong-armed methods to prevent the recall being exercised against them.
  • Leaving all these questions aside, there is always a question of practicability of conducting a recall which would involve enormous amounts of money, manpower, time etc.
  • It is also known that the Indian democracy vests the power of removal of elected representatives in Parliament or the State legislature itself, even though the power to elect them lies with the people. Indian democracy has certainly defied its conservative parentage and has tried to be as inclusive as possible by giving to its citizens a framework which ensures political equality, however, the introduction of recall would bring down this inclusiveness as only politically alert citizens would benefit from it.
  • Lastly, it is argued that introducing recall would unnecessarily undermine the role and importance of our representatives which, in fact, would weaken our democracy.

 

Recall of elected representatives in India:

Quite interestingly, India is not new to this concept. India witnessed its first recall election in the year 2008 wherein three local body chiefs were de-elected by the people in accordance with the Chhattisgarh Nagar Palika Act, 1961.

Safeguards that need to be put in place, if the Right to Recall is introduced:

While it is necessary to ensure that a recall process is not frivolous and does not became a source of harassment to elected representatives, the 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 officers from within the Election Commission should be designated to supervise and execute the process.

 

Way ahead:

Recall is quintessentially a ‘post-election’ measure to ensure accountability from the elected representatives, however, there are already in existence various neglected ‘pre-election’ measures which aim to achieve the same purpose. Some examples of such pre-election measures would be the provisions relating to disqualification and expulsion of members and the existing vigilance bodies to check corruption etc. These pre-election measures are comprehensive enough to realise the cherished goal of ‘good governance’, however, there is a serious problem with the implementation of the same. Therefore, it is suggested that the introducing the post-election measure of recall would rather be a very ‘premature’ move and hence, the focus should be on a better implementation of the pre-election measures instead.

 

Conclusion:

Right to recall seems like a very attractive idea on theory but introducing such a right would not only entail practical difficulties, but also bring along various undesirable repercussions. 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 at the first place.