Voter participation in polls must for democracy: Sampath

CEC V S Sampath said adequate representation of people is a must for the survival of any democracy.

New Delhi: Concerned at voter apathy and their lack of participation in elections, Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath on Friday said adequate representation of people is a must for the survival of any democracy.

Noting that 281 million eligible voters did not exercise their franchise in the 2009 general elections, he said this was "not a happy situation".

"No democracy can survive without adequate representation of the people belonging to various sections of society. Democracy implies participatory governance and therefore elections are to be inclusive involving everyone, including those with special needs," he said at a two-day workshop on consultation with civil society organisations on `Inclusive voting and electoral participation` in association with the UNDP here.

Sampath said, "the challenge is how to make people speak through the ballot" and added that the Commission has taken several initiatives to identify missing voters and non-voters to help bring them to the mainstream.

The CEC said, "democracy should manifest people`s power" and it begins with citizen`s participation. "It is only through civic participation in the electoral process, the citizens authorise the elected representatives to act on their behalf," he said.

Sampath called for spreading awareness on the importance of public participation in the electoral process to make it more meaningful.

The Commission is conscious of the responsibility to include youth, women, NRIs, homeless persons, transgenders and others in the electoral process, he said.

Election Commissioner H S Brahma exhorted voters not to "sell" their votes for "illegitimate gifts" and asked them not be lured by such people who offer such sops during elections. "It is very unfortunate and is not going to help our country," he said.

"Time has come that this country deserves a better governance and leadership...The right person deserves your vote," he said, adding that there is need for voter education.

Caitlin Wiesen, United Nations Development Programme`s Resident Representative and Country Director, appreciated the use of electronic voting machines in elections and said the use of EVMs provided accurate, faster and reliable results with zero errors.

Wiesen called for efforts to reach out to marginalised people and hoped that civil societies would help them to get engaged in the country`s electoral process.

Earlier, Brahma said NGOs and civil society could play a significant role in elections and ensuring people`s participation in the election process.

"They can contribute a lot for welfare of the state and country," he said.

The Commission has also developed a Youth Unite for Voter Awareness programme to encourage increased participation of youth in electoral process, Bramha said.