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Lingering Questions

Things EC must do to help Voters make informed choice

LESS number of Goans came out to vote on Tuesday. About 74.65  per cent of 11.35 lakh voters cast their franchise for the Lok Sabha seats of North Goa and South Goa. The voting percentage was about 2 per cent lower than that recorded in 2014. Even in the by-polls to the Assembly the voting percentage was less in every constituency: about 83.90  per cent in Shiroda, as against 85.78 per cent in 2017; about 86.52  per cent in Mandrem, as against 87.40 per cent in 2017; and only 77.55 per cent in Mapusa, as against 85.78 per cent in 2017. The highest voting percentage of nearly 82 per cent was recorded in Sanquelim constituency and the lowest of little under 62 percent in the Benaulim constituency. The constituencies with large numbers of families of mining dependants both in North Goa and South Goa recorded much higher voting than the average polling in the remaining constituencies. The voting in the mining belt was between 75 per cent and 84 per cent, much higher compared to other areas. The mining dependants had thrown their weight behind the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014 which had then promised resumption of mining. It might be recalled that the leadership of the organization of mining dependants had given a call to its members and supporters to vote according to their ‘conscience.’ We will know what happened when the results are announced.

Much like other parts of the country, there were complaints of malfunctioning of electronic voting machines in different constituencies in Goa, holding up polling. The election officials had to replace the EVMs. The malfunctioning compelled voters at some booths to go back home and return for voting. Once again questions have been raised about the technology of the EVMs and the Election Commission needs to answer them to the satisfaction of the voters of different persuasions and remove doubts from their minds.

Polling in the state was preceded by seizures of cash, liquor and narcotics worth Rs 11.65 crore. The seizures were higher than those in Himachal Pradesh (Rs 7.8 crore), Odisha (Rs 7.4 crore), Uttarakhand (Rs 7.3 crore) and Bihar (Rs 7.9 crore). Though the seizures were made days before the polling it is a pity that neither the election officials nor the excise and police officials informed the voters whether the illegal money or consignments or stocks were paid for by candidates or political parties. Of what use to the voter would their findings be even if they trace it to a candidate in their report after the elections?

Nor did the election officials enforce the court directives with regard to publication of three advertisements in the media by candidates facing criminal cases. At least 6 of the 28 candidates had criminal cases pending against them, but none of them published advertisements. It remains to be seen whether these candidates are hauled up for contempt of court for ignoring the apex court directives. The failure of the election officials to act against the candidates involved in criminal cases is intriguing. By not investigating and disclosing whether the seizures of liquor and cash and narcotics were related to elections, and by not forcing candidates with criminal cases to comply with the apex court order the election officials have failed in these respects to make the voters aware of some candidates indulging in malpractices. Had the election officials revealed the names of those seeking to “buy” votes and compelled those with criminal record to publicise the cases against them, Goans could have made informed choices in casting their franchise.

The issues on which the parties sought votes were development, welfare and mining as far as Lok Sabha elections were concerned. The voting in the by-elections to the Assembly was in large part a referendum on the party switch of the MLAs of Shiroda and Mandrem who crossed over from the Congress to the BJP. Goans have given their verdict in the EVMs. However, the Election Commission has a duty to convince them that technology has not erred. The next time the Election Commission must investigate and release reports about whether seizures of cash and liquor were related to elections and force candidates with criminal record to publicise it for voters to be able to make an informed choice.

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