Right of Voter to know about Candidate: A Note
-- Sanjoy Yambem, Advocate, High Court of Manipur --

The people of the country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by the public functionaries. MPs or MLAs are undoubtedly public functionaries. Public education is essential for functioning of the process of popular government and to assist the discovery of truth and strengthening the capacity of an individual in participating in decision making process. The decision making process of a voter would include his right to know about public functionaries who are required to be elected by him.

The right to get information in democracy is recognised all throughout and it is natural right flowing from the concept of democracy.

No democratic Government can survive without accountability and the basic postulate of accountability is that the people should have information about the functioning of the Government. It is only when people know how Government is functioning that they can fulfill the role which democracy assigns to them and make democracy a really effective participatory democracy.

The trite saying that 'democracy is for the people, of the people and by the people' has to be remembered for ever. In a democratic republic, it is the will of the people that is paramount and becomes the basis of the authority of the Government. The will is expressed in periodic elections based on universal adult suffrage held by means of secret ballot. It is through the ballot that the voter expresses his choice or preference for a candidate. "Voting is formal expression of will or opinion by the person entitled to exercise the right on the subject or issue", as observed by the Supreme Court in Lily Thomas Vs. Speaker, Lok Sabha 1993 Legal Eagle (SC) 638 : 1993) 4 SCC 234] quoting from Black's Law Dictionary.

Why a Voter must have the right to know about the candidates?

The citizens of the country are enabled to take part in the Government through their chosen representatives. In a Parliamentary democracy like ours, the Government of the day is responsible to the people through their elected representatives. The elected representative acts or is supposed to act as a live link between the people and the Government. The peoples' representatives fill the role of law-makers and custodians of Government. People look to them for ventilation and redressal of their grievances. They are the focal point of the will and authority of the people at large. The moment they put in papers for contesting the election, they are subjected to public gaze and public scrutiny. The character, strength and weakness of the candidate is widely debated. Nothing is therefore more important for sustenance of democratic polity than the voter making an intelligent and rational choice of his or her representative. For this, the voter should be in a position to effectively formulate his/her opinion and to ultimately express that opinion through ballot by casting the vote. The concomitant of the right to vote which is the basic postulate of democracy is thus two fold:

 first, formulation of opinion about the candidates and,

second, the expression of choice by casting the vote in favour of the preferred candidate at the polling booth.

The first step is complementary to the other. Many a voter will be handicapped in formulating the opinion and making a proper choice of the candidate unless the essential information regarding the candidate is available. The voter/citizen should have at least the basic information about the contesting candidate, such as his involvement in serious criminal offences. To scuttle the flow of information-relevant and essential would affect the electorate's ability to evaluate the candidate. Not only that, the information relating to the candidates will pave the way for public debate on the merits and demerits of the candidates. When once there is public disclosure of the relevant details concerning the candidates, the Press, as a media of mass communication and voluntary organizations vigilant enough to channel the public opinion on right lines will be able to disseminate the information and thereby enlighten and alert the public at large regarding the adverse antecedents of a candidate. It will go a long way in promoting the freedom of speech and expression. That goal would be accomplished in two ways. It will help the voter who is interested in seeking and receiving information about the candidate to form an opinion according to his or her conscience and best of judgment and secondly it will facilitate the Press and voluntary organizations in imparting information on a matter of vital public concern. An informed voter-whether he acquires information directly by keeping track of disclosures or through the Press and other channels of communication, will be able to fulfil his responsibility in a more satisfactory manner. An enlightened and informed citizenry would undoubtedly enhance democratic values. Thus, the availability of proper and relevant information about the candidate fosters and promotes the freedom of speech and expression both from the point of view of imparting and receiving the information. In turn, it would lead to the preservation of the integrity of electoral process which is so essential for the growth of democracy.

The disclosure of information would facilitate and augment the freedom of expression both from the point of view of the voter as well as the media through which the information is publicized and openly debated.

Voting is a form of ‘expresssion’

The problem can be approached from another angle. As observed by the Supreme Court in Association for Democratic Reforms' case, a voter 'speaks out or expresses by casting vote'. Freedom of expression, as contemplated by Article 19(1)(a) which in many respects overlaps and coincides with freedom of speech, has manifold meanings. It need not and ought not to be confined to expressing something in words orally or in writing. The act of manifesting by action or language is one of the meanings given in Ramanatha Iyer's Law Lexicon (edited by Justice Y.V. Chandrachud). Even a manifestation of an emotion, feeling etc., without words would amount to expression. The example given in Collin's Dictionary of English language (1983 reprint) is: "tears are an expression of grief", is quite apposite. Another shade of meaning is: "a look on the face that indicates mood or emotion; eg: a joyful expression". Communication of emotion and display of talent through music, painting etc., is also a sort of expression. Having regard to the comprehensive meaning of phrase 'expression', voting can be legitimately regarded as a form of expression. Ballot is the instrument by which the voter expresses his choice between candidates or in respect to propositions; and his 'vote' is his choice or election, as expressed by his ballot (vide 'A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage'; 2nd Edition, by Garner Bryan A). "Opinion expressed, resolution or decision carried, by voting" is one of the meanings given to the expression 'vote' in the New Oxford Illustrated Dictionary.

Right to vote is a Constitutional right though not a fundamental right but right to make choice by means of ballot is part of freedom of expression.

In People’s Union of Civil Liberties vs. Union of India, 2003 Legal Eagle (SC) 314 : AIR 2003 SC 2363, P. Venkatarama Reddi J., had observed that followings:

‘Right to vote is a Constitutional right though not a fundamental right but right to make choice by means of ballot is part of freedom of expression.’

‘It is well settled and it needs no emphasis that the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression should be broadly construed and it has been so construed all these years. In the light of this, the dictum of the Court that the voter "speaks out or expresses by casting a vote" is apt and well founded. I would only reiterate and say that freedom of voting by expressing preference for a candidate is nothing but freedom of expressing oneself in relation to a matter of prime concern to the country and the voter himself.

‘The right to vote for the candidate of one's choice is of the essence of democratic polity. This right is recognized by our Constitution and it is given effect to in specific form by the Representation of the People Act. The Constituent Assembly debates reveal that the idea to treat the voting right as a fundamental right was dropped; nevertheless, it was decided to provide for it elsewhere in the Constitution. This move found its expression in Article 326 which enjoins that "the elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage; that is to say, every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than 21* years of age, and is not otherwise disqualified under the Constitution or law on the ground of non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime, corrupt or illegal practice-shall be entitled to be registered as voter at such election" (* Now 18 years). However, case after case starting from Ponnuswami's case [Legal Eagle 1952 (SC) 2 : (1952) SCR 218 : 1952 AIR(SC) 64] characterized it as a statutory right. "The right to vote or stand as a candidate for election", it was observed in Ponnuswami's case "is not a civil right but is a creature of statute or special law and must be subject to the limitations imposed by it." It was further elaborated in the following words: "Strictly speaking, it is the sole right of the Legislature to examine and determine all matters relating to the election of its own members, and if the legislature takes it out of its own hands and vests in a special tribunal an entirely new and unknown jurisdiction, that special jurisdiction should be exercised in accordance with the law which creates it.”’

‘Though the initial right cannot be placed on the pedestal of a fundamental right, but, at the stage when the voter goes to the polling booth and casts his vote, his freedom to express arises. The casting of vote in favour of one or the other candidate tantamounts to expression of his opinion and preference and that final stage in the exercise of voting right marks the accomplishment of freedom of expression of the voter. That is where Article 19(1)(a) is attracted. Freedom of voting as distinct from right to vote is thus a species of freedom of expression and therefore carries with it the auxiliary and complementary rights such as right to secure information about the candidate which are conducive to the freedom.’

‘Therefore, the fundamental right of freedom of expression sets in when a voter actually casts his vote.’

In Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms & Another, 2002 Legal Eagle (SC) 551 : (2002) 5 SCC 294, the Supreme Court opined that “voter speaks out or expresses by casting vote” and such a speech is part of the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a). The Supreme Court after taking into consideration various aspects of the matter including the Reports and other materials held that for the effective exercise of his fundamental right, the voter is entitled to have all relevant information about the candidates at an election. This Court identified some of the important aspects of such information. They are (i) candidate’s criminal antecedents (if any), (ii) assets and liabilities, (iii) educational qualifications.

What are the statutory provisions?

Subsequent to the judgement of the Supreme Court in Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms & Another, (2002) 5 SCC 294 Dated 2.5.2002’, Parliament chose to amend the RP Act, 1951 by introducing section 33A and section 125A. Parliament made a further declaration under Section 33B. The provisions are as follows:

33A. Right to information.—(1) A candidate shall, apart from any information which he is required to furnish, under this Act or the rules made thereunder, in his nomination paper delivered under sub-section (1) or section 33, also furnish the information as to whether –

(i) he is accused of any offence punishable with imprisonment for two years or more in a pending case in which a charge has been framed by the court of competent jurisdiction;

(ii) he has been convicted of an offence [other than any offence referred to in sub-section (1) or sub-section (2), or covered in sub-section (3), of section 8] and sentenced to imprisonment for one year or more.

(2) The candidate of his proposer, as the case may be, shall, at the time of delivering to the returning officer the nomination paper under sub-section (1) of section 33, also deliver to him an affidavit sworn by the candidate in a prescribed form very fine the information specified in sub-section (1).

(3) The returning officer shall, as soon as may be after the furnishing of information to him under sub-section (1), display the aforesaid information by affixing a copy of the affidavit, delivered under sub-section (2), at a conspicuous place at his office for the information of the electors relating to a constituency for which the nomination paper is delivered.

33B. Candidate to furnish information only under the Act and the rules.—Notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, decree or order of any court or any direction, order or any other instruction issued by the Election Commission, no candidate shall be liable to disclose or furnish any such information, in respect of his election which is not required to be disclosed or furnished under this Act or the rules made thereunder.

125A. Penalty for filing false affidavit, etc.—A candidate who himself or through his proposer, with intent to be elected in an election,—

(i) fails to furnish information relating to sub-section (1) of section 33A; or

(ii) give false information which he knows or has reason to believe to be false; or

(iii) conceals any information, in his nomination paper delivered under sub-section (1) of section 33 or in his affidavit which is required to be delivered under sub-section (2) of section 33A, as the case may be, shall, notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.


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