Spoilsport or democratic right? Role of NOTA in Tamil Nadu Assembly polls

In Tamil Nadu, NOTA was first seen as an option during the 2014 Parliamentary elections.
Election Commission officials and a few others seen near Electronic Voting Machines (EVM)
Election Commission officials and a few others seen near Electronic Voting Machines (EVM)
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Just a day is left for the campaigns to end in poll-bound Tamil Nadu and the candidates are running from pillar to post to attract voters. Last-minute campaigners are seen leaving pamphlets at people’s doorsteps and playing music while asking for votes in their constituencies. While all the parties are slugging it out in the multi-cornered polls there’s one thing that never comes into play during campaigning but still tends to attract voters–NOTA or None of the above.

In 2013, the Supreme Court in the PUCL vs Union of India judgment permitted the use of NOTA in Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections. This gives voters who do not want to vote for any of the candidates contesting in the elections but want to exercise their franchise, the option to vote for NOTA. The NOTA option was first used during the Assembly elections in four states, including Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, in 2013.

In Tamil Nadu, NOTA was first seen as an option during the 2014 Parliamentary elections and received the highest vote share at 3.67% in the Nilgiris constituency in Tamil Nadu. In the reserved constituency, AIADMK's R Gopalakrishnan who received 36.45% of the vote share, beat DMK's A Raja with a margin of over 8%.

Likewise, NOTA has received sizable vote shares across the state, even beating several smaller parties. NOTA, viewed as an alternative, could possibly play spoilsport in elections where the margin of victory is close.

NOTA has influenced the victory margin of at least 25 candidates in the 2016 Assembly elections, according to a report in The Hindu. TNM takes a closer look at the role played by NOTA in the past elections and what effect it will have in the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.

Multi-cornered poll battle vs NOTA

In 2016, NOTA registered an overall vote share of 1.3% in the state and could have played spoilsport in some constituencies.

In the Ottapidaram constituency, Puthiya Tamilagam party founder K Krishnasamy received 40.26% vote share but still lost to AIADMK candidate Sundararajan who just received 40.57% vote share. In the same constituency, NOTA received 1.63% of votes and could have spoiled the chances of the candidate who ran second. Krishnasamy is again standing for elections from the same Ottapidaram constituency.

Similarly, DMK candidate M Appavu for Radhapuram constituency lost to AIADMK’s Inbadurai by a margin of 0.3% and NOTA gained 1.06% vote share in the same constituency.

While the 2016 elections had People’s Welfare Front, BJP and PMK, contesting against DMK and AIADMK and their respective allies. This time we also see MNM-led alliance with All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi and Indiya Jananayaka Katchi, AMMK-led alliance with All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Naam Tamilar Katchi contesting. As the battle is already expected to be tough, especially without AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa and DMK stalwart M Karunanidhi to lead the way, the vote shares are expected to split and NOTA may split it further. However, political analyst Raveendran Duraisamy views NOTA as a democratic right. He said, “NOTA should be an option for the voters and it’s the right of the individual. If they do not want to vote for any candidate but still want to vote, then they can do it through NOTA.”

Yet, he disagrees that NOTA plays a deciding factor in close elections.“We are calculating the votes of NOTA and comparing it with the winning margin but we still do not know which candidate the person might have otherwise preferred, so we cannot predict if NOTA will play spoilsport in the elections,” he said.

However, NOTA has consistently maintained its vote share, even in the 2019 Parliamentary elections, NOTA received a vote share of 1.29% even though the election was a clean sweep for DMK. However, social activist Sukirtharani feels that this time NOTA will not get an increased vote share and people will be more responsible when it comes to selecting a party or a candidate.

“I do not agree with NOTA as an option since it is our democratic right to elect a leader. I do not see any difference between people who refuse to vote and the people voting for NOTA, since they do not play any role in selecting their leader. I think they are being irresponsible,” she said

Sukirtharani further said that this time she feels more people will vote to elect a particular leader rather than choose NOTA. “The people are seeing the governance over the past 10 years and are observing the politics of the government. So as per my analysis, more people will vote to choose the right leader this election,” she added.

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