CEC Rajiv Kumar said integrity of elections and democracy go hand-in-hand and generate global peace, prosperity and stability
NEW DELHI, Aug 11 (The CONNECT) - No democracy can ever be meaningful and aspirational, unless it is inclusive for all citizens, accessible without fear or favour and participative despite differential social, political, economic vulnerabilities, Chief Election Commissioner of India Rajiv Kumar today said.
In his keynote address at the virtual meet of the ‘Asian Regional Forum’ on the theme “Making our Elections Inclusive, Accessible and Participative” at Nirvachan Sadan, Kumar said democracy and democratic institutions flourish when all groups of people are fully represented.
The Regional Forum meet was a runup to the “Summit for Electoral Democracy'' to be hosted by the National Electoral Institute of Mexico next month.
The CEC exhorted all Election Management Bodies (EMBs) for a continuous self-evaluation and strengthening of their systems, to meet the rising expectations from citizens and deal with the emerging challenges during the electoral process.
The framework for assessment and so-called ranking of democracies by global evaluating agencies should be objective and contextual, factoring in the magnitude, socio, cultural and geographical context in which each country and EMB functions, he said.
Welcoming the idea for this global ‘Summit for Electoral Democracy’, Kumar said that integrity of elections and democracy go hand-in-hand and generate global peace, prosperity and stability.
Kumar said that Inclusion must cover all manner of marginalized communities – those marginalized by region, geography, literacy, language, ethnicity, economy, gender, disability among others to ensure their voices are heard and they are able to express their voting rights. Access must be provided to these communities to ensure the entire process of casting a vote becomes easy and comfortable. Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) and senior citizens grapple with attitudinal bias, lack of access to information, infrastructural barriers and many more issues. He added that whenever a new technology is designed or a new service is adopted by the EMB, accessibility should be part of the design itself and not added on later as an afterthought. He further extended support to desiring EMBs in designing and strengthening various technological, legal and regulatory architecture.
The CEC highlighted the daunting task of conducting elections in India and said that the Commission undertook a far-sighted reform during the Covid-19 period by introducing the Postal Ballot facility for senior citizens above the age of 80 years, persons with disabilities and those who were COVID positive or suspect. He mentioned that over 7.7 million PwD voters and 15 million 80+ voters have been mapped by ECI for targeted interventions and meaningful outreach. ECI is constantly striving towards achieving 100 percent mapping of all PwD and senior citizen voters. The participation of women in the first Indian election was 78 million i.e. 45%. Over seven decades and 17 national elections later, women's participation has exceeded that of men and the gender gap has not only closed but reversed to +0.17% in 2019. India has witnessed a 235.72% increase in female electors since the 1971 election.
He alerted the EMBs about the opportunities and challenges emerging from ever increasing outreach through social media which also assumes criticality in terms of legal, regulatory framework and limitations across geographies to address fake news/narratives and surrogate advertising.
Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey said that issues of accessibility are universal and most marginalized groups face barriers to their participation in elections which has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged all EMBs to make sustained efforts to engage and involve women, third gender, PwDs, senior citizens and other marginalized groups in the election process.
While emphasizing that electoral practices need to be inclusive, Pandey mentioned noteworthy initiatives taken by the Election Commission of India over the years to ensure “No Voter is Left Behind” including ‘Basic Minimum Facilities’ at polling stations, all-women managed polling stations, separate queues & toilets for women, postal ballot facility, Braille EPIC, wheel chair facility with volunteers, transport to and from the polling station, a mobile app for Persons with Disabilities, recognizing transgender as third gender and creating an Accessibility Division within ECI among others.