A new era of democracy

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 01, 2012 07:50 hrs

The decreasing turn out in elections in most of the established democracies has been a matter of concern in recent years. The former Chief Election Commissioner of India S.Y. Quraishi had said in an interview that the low voter turnout had emerged as a fundamental threat to the country's democracy.

Quraishi added: "If 30 per cent of people vote, and one of them wins with 12 per cent of that, both the quality of the representation and the legitimacy of governance will suffer."

Several attempts have been made by the Election Commission of India to increase the voter turnout such as appointment of community-based booth liaison officers, hand-delivery of voter slips prior to the election day and running of awareness campaigns in the media but the decline has been irreversible. Voters in the urban areas remain apathetic. They complain about the pervasive corruption, lack of governance, callous representatives but don't turn out at the polling booth on the voting day.

India has now over 900 million mobile phones spread across the country and it is estimated that in the next few years every Indian will own a mobile phone. With their near universal availability, mobile phones are being increasingly used for diverse purposes such as banking, health care, making payments, raising funds, listening to radio, watching television and accessing social media.

Mobile phones are already a trusted medium for financial transactions in India. Total transactions effected through mobile banking last year were over 7 billion. The Reserve Bank of India recently removed the ceiling of 50,000 per customer per day and allowed the banks to decide their own transaction limits based on their own risk perception. It was done keeping in mind the developments in mobile technology, increasing sophistication of mobile access devices, increase in options for remote connectivity and mobile application security.

On several occasions, mobile phones have been used to raise funds. Micro-donations of sums of 10 to 50 to political parties can be made with just a SMS which can possibly revolutionize election funding in India. Major Indian political parties are already making extensive use of the social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and are engaging in brand advertising online with launching Android, Nokia, Blackberry and iPhone applications to win the hearts and minds of the younger generation.

It is true that mobile voting is still in early stages and a number of pilot projects in Internet voting such as D.C. Internet Pilot in the U.S. have shown vulnerabilities regarding voting data privacy and security. Nonetheless a number of countries such as UK, France, Switzerland and Estonia have introduced mobile voting as an option for casting votes along with traditional paper ballots. It should be noted that mobile voting has not replaced paper ballots in these countries.

The Parliament of Estonia passed a law way back in 2008 to allow mobile voting, making Estonia the first country in the world to legally accept mobile voting. In the 2011 Parliamentary elections of Estonia, mobile voting option was exercised by the voters. Independent security audits have found the Estonian mobile voting system effective and reliable.

In order to cast vote on mobile the voter had to enter his mobile number into a computer, a control code was sent to voter's mobile phone by SMS. The voter identified himself by entering that code into the mobile, then he was shown the candidate list of his electoral district then he made his voting decision which was encrypted. A control code was again sent to the voter's mobile phone by SMS. The voter confirmed his choice with a digital signature by entering that code into his mobile phone. He received a notice on the computer screen that the vote was accepted.

Efficient use of the Internet and the social media channels was made by the Election Commission in Uttar Pradesh this year to help voters check their details in the electoral roll and locate their polling stations. The Bihar Election Commission decided last week to introduce mobile-voting in the next urban bodies polls. It is only timely the Election Commission of India introduces mobile voting in the 2014 general elections in the large urban centres on an experimental basis giving them a choice to vote from home or the office.

This would not only bring the Indian middle class back into the democratic process transforming the electoral dynamics of the country but also transform the way election campaigns are conducted and funds are raised. Candidates can bring down their campaign expenditure using mobile phones and save the environment by consuming less fossil fuels and paper.

Smart mobile phones along with the new social media have ushered in a new age of direct democracy by enabling individuals to directly participate in national and global decision making process. Parliamentary institutions around the world now need to consult and engage citizens on a real time basis and encourage them to positively contribute to ongoing policy debates to keep their legitimacy intact.

As the debate between direct vs representative democracy deepens, with over 5 billions mobile phones on our planet, the common man can directly participate in the political decision making process.

Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Abhay K., an award winning poet-diplomat, and author of seven books. (ANI)

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