MoU on Electoral cooperation with Bhutan renewed
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The Chief Election Commissioner of India, Shri Sunil Arora and Election Commissioner Shri Ashok Lavasa today inaugurated an International Conference on ‘Making our Elections Inclusive and Accessible’. ECI is hosting the International Conference on the occasion of 9th National Voters Day which is observed on 25thJanuary every year. Chairpersons/Chief Election Commissioners / Commissioner and Senior Officials from Election Management Bodies (EMBs) viz. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Russia & Sri Lanka and Heads/Senior Representatives of International Organisations viz. Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre, U.K.; International Centre for Parliamentary Studies, U.K. and International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) have gathered in New Delhi to participate in the event.
In his Keynote Address, Sh. Sunil Arora, Chief Election Commissioner of India, stated that free, fair, transparent, credible and ethical elections are critical to the legitimacy of a democratic government. It is imperative that the voice of all categories of voters is included in democratic representation. Inclusive elections coupled with characteristics such as transparency, accountability and competitivenessadd to the strengthof democratic polity. Speaking specifically of the Indian context, he strongly affirmed that ECI is always open to all kinds of feedback in all forms from all stakeholders particularly the political parties who are the most significant stakeholders after the voters. He stated that ECI is not going to be intimidated, coerced or pressurized into going back to ballot papers days. The position has been consistently maintained by successive Commissions and the same will be maintained in the future. In ballot paper era there used to be innumerable complaints about impersonation and booth capturing by anti-social elements and musclemen etc. besides the inordinate delays in declaring results which sometimes spread from three to four days. We have kept a robust technical and administrative mechanism to safeguard the integrity of EVM. VVPATs have further enhanced the transparency of votes for the voters.
In context of the recent aspersions cast on EVMs used in elections, Shri Arora denounced the targeting of the machines, which unnecessarily are being dragged into motivated slugfest. “EVMs have been in use for the last two decades. Even in several elections since 2014, the machines have given different results in different elections.” Shri Arora mentioned that even in the recent elections in the five States, out of a total of 176,000 Polling Booths where EVMs were used, there were six incidents of violation of Standard Operating Procedure, that too in reserved EVMs not used in the actual elections. “Although the ratio is negligible but even in these cases stringent disciplinary action was taken and ECI has and always will have zero tolerance to any kind of errors in the election process” he reiterated.
Shri Arora also referred to the relevant UN Treaties viz; Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948 and the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966 etc. which have guided and provided strength and support to democracies across the world in shaping up their constitutional, legislative, and legal framework for ‘Inclusive and Accessible Elections’.
While addressing the participants, Election Commissioner, Sh. Ashok Lavasa mentioned that Election Commission of India has played a pioneering role in organizing free, fair and credible elections in a transparent manner in the largest democracy in the world and leads the way in sharing best practices and knowledge skills with fellow EMBs. He referred to the active role played by ECI in international arena in the field of Election Management through its close association with regional and world bodies like FEMBoSA, AAEA, A-WEB and International IDEA. In this regard ECI has provided technical assistance to several countries like Jordan, Maldives, Namibia, Egypt, Bhutan and Nepal; undertaken Study/Observation Missions for Elections to a number of countries abroad and exchange visits for sharing of experiences and skills as also helped with capacity building programmes.
Sh. Lavasa said “it is a tribute to Indian people, our democracy and the election machinery that what started as a voter base of 176 million people in 1951 is now a vast vocal electorate of almost 880 million with a voting percentage of about 66.4 % in 2014”
He noted that the better thing of the course is that the increase is across the spectrum, more women , more first time voters, more PwDs , more transgenders and more service voters. The next milestone is to improve it further and work towards ethical voting, he emphasised.
In his welcome address, Mr. Umesh Sinha, Senior Deputy Election Commissioner briefed the delegates about the contours of the International Conference on ‘Making our Elections Inclusive and Accessible’. He mentioned that ECI has led the way in the path to democracy during the last 68 years by conducting 16 General Elections to the Lok Sabha and more than 388 elections to the State Legislative Assemblies. ECI is globally recognised today as an institution of repute in imparting knowledge and sharing of best practices and skills with other EMBs through its robust International Cooperation Programme. He highlighted various initiatives taken by the ECI under its flagship programme Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) for enhancing Inclusion among various categories of voters to encourage their electoral participation. He expressed the hope that the ideas and experiences shared at this Conference would provide useful takeaways for all stakeholders in this endeavour.
During the one-day Conference, there were sessions with Heads and senior delegates from EMBs and International Organisations, giving their presentations and sharing of their experiences, best practices and initiatives aimed at electoral engagement, enrolment and active participation aiming towards inclusive and accessible ballot exercise in their respective countries.
On the sidelines of the Conference ECI today also renewed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for cooperation in the field of election management with the Election Commission of Bhutan. To mark the occasion, ECI also released the January 2019 issue of its Quarterly Magazine ‘VOICE International’. The magazine carries rich experiences for knowledge sharing on Inclusive and Accessible Elections across the democracies around the world.
The international delegates have also been invited to attend the National Voters Day Celebrations in New Delhi on 25th January 2019 besides visiting the upcoming campus of the India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management (IIIDEM) at Dwarka, New Delhi. Some of the delegates will also witness the celebration of the Republic Day on 26th January 2019.