Sanctity of The Vote

Restoring the institutions’ credibility and regaining the trust of the population require shying away from complacency

Opinion

By Jan Arden

The richest and most powerful federal Presidential democracy in the world has, as we know, been locked in the most hilarious narrative peddled by Trumpists that the election he himself and many states under Republican control supervised, had been rigged and his undoubted victory stolen from him. The only acceptable results should have declared him the winner, through whatever means, including the January 6 organized riotous insurrection to pressure Washington lawmakers and the Vice President Mike Pence to hand him victory against the nation’s majority votes.

None of the 60 or more legal challenges brought by Trumpists to courts disclosed any evidence of wrongdoing at any material scale, as his own outgoing Dept of Justice had concluded, but amazingly, more than 35% of ordinary Americans believe that stolen “Big Lie” peddled by right-wing extremists and associated media. The sanctity of the vote in the US federal structure, electoral colleges, and the mechanisms for electoral oversight in that peculiar set-up, never before challenged, is now a raging internal political debate, although the US peculiarities make it difficult to extrapolate anything of interest for parliamentary democracies.

On the other side of the world, the process for general (Lok Sabha) election spanning such a federation of states as India, the world’s largest constitutional and parliamentary democracy with over 600 million of voters spread out to remotest villages, is not a simple affair. Either at scheduling, security, and personnel levels, at voting and counting stages, it is a gigantic exercise yet independent Bharat has had quite a few since independence, without even considering the hundreds of state and local elections, under the supervision of its constitutionally independent Electoral Commission of India (ECI).

The ECI recognizes that there are constant references made to the unhealthy role of money power, muscle power and mafia power, to abuse of the electoral process through criminalisation, corruption, communalism and casteism or media disfunctionings. Rather than burying its head in the sand and leaving matters in the hands of politicians (a vested interest group, if any…) and legislators, it is praiseworthy to observe that the ECI periodically sifts through the mountains of data or accumulated experience to produce highly topical reports for public consultations and review that covers major identified discrepancies along with recommendations for legislators.

Selection of representatives of the people through universal adult franchise through free, fair, and credible elections is for them as for the Republic’s Founding Fathers, an act of faith. The ECI has over time and with such a proactive attitude done its best to live up to that ideal, improving constantly its own formidable track record of integrity, transparency and professionalism despite the immense challenges related to India’s context and complexities. It can certainly celebrate the Indian 12th National Voter Day on this January 25th with some satisfaction while looking forward to continuous improvement.

How then, we are entitled to ask, have our own traditionally respected Electoral Supervisory Commission and Electoral Commission, operating at scales of a minor Indian district, succeeded to plunge the 2019 general elections into such controversies, largely commented in the press and on political platforms?

How come the petition processes have been allowed to drift from one delay to another (including temporary Covid lockdowns) for two full years for even such a simple request as recounting in constituencies where margins between returned and unreturned candidates is so minimal?

Why did the EC/ESC protest so steadfastly, clinging to an “all voting and counting was above board and went without any hiccups”, until the evidence of sums not adding up became “glaring” according to the Supreme Court in constituency No19?

Whatever the outcome of the SC-ordered recount, should they not at the very least, for the sake of “free, fair and credible” elections, apologise to the nation and, in the same breath of “transparency”, petition the Supreme Court themselves, if necessary, for a Court-supervised recount wherever petitions have been filed (and in one case, No14, disregarded) and where margins are less than some percentage?

Restoring the institutions’ credibility and regaining the trust of the population, we dare say, require shying away from complacency. This said without in any way prejudicing the recount results from ballot papers which have been stored in SMF premises for two years.

* * *

Frontliners

When the term ‘frontliners’ is mentioned, almost all of us associate it with the bravery and dedication of our health personnel and support people in public and private health centres as they helped contain or mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic under stressful and pressure conditions. They were our sentinels, soldiers guarding our frontiers and, when those were breached, keeping watch over our assailed bodies and minds, when thousands of ordinary Mauritians were in intense sufferings and some with unavoidable and tragic terminal outcome.

Ambulance men, SAMU and sadly, even burial or cremation services became overstretched. In the midst of all the personal risks and family exposures, they all had little rest or respite, but credit to them, all soldiered on, many without the usual end of year festivities around family or social gatherings.

They would have watched as their UK counterparts and the rest of the Brits, in some disgusted amazement, how the Boris Johnson establishment, in weekly new revelations, were engaged in merrymaking and social gatherings and parties when the rest of the country was under strict confinement. No doubt they would not have missed either the viral clips of their own Minister partying privately when the talk of the town was about derelict emergency procurement procedures for various drugs and with some of his key staffers under investigation.

An international podcast brings to mind that there have been during this pandemic other less visible soldiers of fortune called to attend other important frontlines for any country. The Police or Fire and Rescue Services may indeed be seen as the necessary, impartial, equitable and comprehending force people relied upon during the pandemic difficulties, their role essential as other frontliners, soldiers maintaining peace, justice, liberty and civil quiescence.

These are often recognizable but what about the other frontliners, less visible but equally important to our survival during the pandemic, asked the author of the podcast. Where were the frontliners of elections where any were being held, he asks, and were they not soldiers of our democratic processes, frontliners fighting for our hard-earned voting rights and our civic freedoms? The population will make its own judgement on that.

Who were the frontliners when the MV Wakashio was allowed to enter our national waters, ram into our coral reefs and wallow there for twelve days or more, spilling its black muck that ordinary citizens rushed to stem with unlimited enthusiasm and artisanal means?

What about the frontliners safeguarding our public procurement processes during emergency, were they dispensed of the same levels of dedication and professionalism we expect from health personnel?

Can investigative agencies and officers pick up the notorious slack in their efforts so as to be effective frontliners for cleaner government, unmasking corruption that seems to sully the atmosphere and restore our beliefs in a sputtering democracy?


* Published in print edition on 28 January 2022

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