|Right To Recall elected representatives and referendums have hardly succeeded in their objective. In some countries, history shows, hardly a couple of ‘Recalls’ have succeeded. PRASHANT HAMINE explores the option...
IN his ‘Charter of Democracy’ speech at the 1912 Ohio constitutional convention, former US President, Theodore Roosevelt had quite aptly summed up Recall Initiatives and Referendums as – “I believe in the Initiative and Referendum, which should be used not to destroy representative government, but to correct it whenever it becomes misrepresentative.” But historical records both in the US and Canada reveal that, in the last hundred years, rarely have such participatory initiatives succeeded.
Recall is the name given to a mechanism by which voters can end an elected official’s period of office before the next scheduled election for the office. The recall mechanism is the least common of the three direct democracy mechanisms of Right To Reject All Candidates, Right To Recall Elected Representatives and Referendums on Government Legislations.
The measure has its proponents and opponents as well. For the proponents, the measure acts as a discipline on elected representatives whereas the opponents argue that the recall mechanism completely undermines the representative government by making elected officials afraid to make unpopular but necessary decisions. For the proponents, the measure gives continued opportunity to voters to make democratic decisions about who governs them while the opponents argue that the mechanism could be used irresponsibly by political parties as political weapon against rival incumbents. In 2003, the Democrats in the US had used the Recall against the Republicans in the California Recall.
Put to test in 3 municipalities
Right To Recall of elected representatives was put to test in three municipalities of Gunderdehi and Nawagarh in Durg district and Rajpur in Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh on June 17, 2008. Chhattisgarh has legislative provisions in acts of 1956, 1961 and 1993 that provide for Recall of certain elected peoples representatives of local bodies – both in rural and urban bodies like Gram Panchayats, Municipal Councils and Municipal Corporations. However, there is a two-year moratorium on using the Recall provision in the sense that it cannot be used until the civic body completes two years of being duly constituted. Here too, the three recalled municipal council presidents did allege misuse of the provision to settle political scores.
The PRS Legislative Research, in its draft report submitted to the Core Committee on Electoral Reforms set up by the Union Law Ministry, had recommended that a mechanism should be set up by which voters may recall legislators who are not seen to be performing their work satisfactorily. Former, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, while delivering the EMS Namboodripad Memorial Lecture on ‘Democratic Consolidation: The Indian Experience’ at Thiruvananthapuram, had argued that time had come to look at devices like Recall to ensure accountability of members of democratic institutions at all levels, before the common man gets totally disillusioned with the prevailing system.
However, Chief Election Commissioner, Election Commission of India, Dr. S. Y. Quraishi has outrightly rejected the concept arguing that the Indian electorate is too fatigued by frequent elections. That is partly got to do with not just the frequency of the assembly or the general elections, but also with the stiff pre-conditions that both the proponents and the opponents are subjected to.
The more famous failed Recall attempt of August 15, 2004 was that of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez who survived the scare. But, that was thanks to the Venezuelan National Electoral Council ruling that large number of the 20 per cent signatures of voters collected by the proponents were ineligible. It was Chavez himself who had amended the constitution in 1999 to insert article 72 that guaranteed Recall of elected representatives including that off the head of the state.
Another more notable successful recall was that of California Governor Gary Davis in November 2002. In less than a year after being elected as the Governor, Davis had to go and Hollywood action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected. Around 30 states in the US have provision of Recall. The state of California has had Recall since 1911 and till November 2002. In the last 91 years, only on two occasions have state Governors been recalled from office. In another case, a Senator in California in 1913 resigned, while in 1914 a Senator survived the Recall. Whereas, in 1995 two Assembly members were Recalled.
Eight states in US require certain preconditions to be met before the Recall petition is filed. Recall initiatives may not reverse the decisions taken earlier and instead could prove counter-productive. The 5 City Councillors of Covina, Los Angeles County had proposed 6 per cent Utility tax in 1993. The Utility tax posed a threat of closure to the local Library and Fire Stations in which 42 employees faced unemployment. And what happened next. The replaced councillors imposed an even higher 8.25 per cent Utility tax!
At the state level, the only other successful Recall has been that of Governor, Lynn J Frazer of North Dakota in 1921. In another case, in 1983 two state Senators were recalled for the first time in the history of the state of Michigan. But the Recall in 29 states in US is not just restricted to elected representatives like Governors or Senators, but also to local officials and even judges.
In Sweden, where direct democracy was introduced at the federal level in 1848, in some Cantons it was introduced way back in the 14th century. It must be noted that there is no Recall of elected representatives at the federal level in Sweden. Even the number of signatures of registered voters to force a recall varies from canton to canton. In canton of Schaffhausen, 1,000 signatures are enough, while in canton of Ticino the proponent has to collect 15,000 signatures. However, as of today, since 2003, Recall has not succeeded in Recalling any elected representative.
According to Helena Brogren, Administrator at Election Authority of Sweden, “It is not possible to Recall elected representatives in the meaning of the procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote, initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition.”
Brogren further adds that, as per article 11 in chapter 4 of The Instrument of Government, “members of the Riksdag or alternates for such members may not resign their mandate without the Riksdag’s consent. Under chapter 3, article 4, The Election Review Board shall examine on its own initiative whether a particular member or an alternate is eligible or not. Members or alternates may be deprived of their mandate only if they have proved themselves manifestly unfit to hold a mandate by reason of a criminal act. A decision in such case shall be taken by a court of law”.
According to Amie Foster, Manager Executive Services, Elections BC, “The Recall process is unique in Canada – no other province or territory has a system in place for removing elected representatives from office between elections. British Columbia in Canada has had Recall since 1995 and in the last 14 years there have been 24 Recall petitions. Out of these 23 petitions failed and, in one case MLA, Paul Ramsey resigned in 1998 during the petition period. In British Columbia, you have to give a sufficiently valid reason in not more than 200 words as to why you want a Recall. No elected representative can be recalled within the first 18 months of his or her term in office.
If the proponent meets all the requirements then in the next 60 days he has to collect signatures of more than 40 per cent of the voters, who were registered voters in the last elections. The CEO has to, in 42 days after submission of the signed petition, verify all the signatures of the voters and if there are enough valid signatures, the financing rules have been met by the proponent, then the incumbent member ceases to hold office and a by-election must be called within 90 days. However, a member subjected to Recall can run as candidate in the by-election.
Recall & Initiative Act
The guidelines laid down in the Recall and Initiative Act are hard to meet for the proponent. Signatures of the voters on the petition have to be accompanied by their residential addresses. He may seek help of volunteers or canvassers who have to be registered voters in that constituency. Failure to comply with the guidelines laid down for canvassers attracts fines up to $10,000 or imprisonment. Both the proponent and the incumbent member (opponent) have to maintain proper bank accounts for the purpose and no anonymous contributions are allowed. Even advertising and campaigning are subject to stringent scrutiny.
In United Kingdom, although the Royal assent to the Political Parties and Elections Bill was given on July 21, 2009, the bill did not have provision of Right To Recall. Earlier, on June 15, 2009 an amendment was proposed to the law but that was defeated by a majority of 149 to 48 votes in the parliament. MP Douglas Carswell and MP Zac Goldsmith in October 2009 and July 2010 respectively had introduced bills that sought to introduce Recall elected representatives at primaries level for selection of candidates and under specific circumstances.
The incumbent Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has assured of introducing the Right To Recall. But, so far, has not managed to do so given the landslide negative vote it received for its proposed referendum on changing the election system from the “First Past The Post” to “Alternate Vote’’ (or Preferential Vote) was rejected by a overwhelming 67.9 per cent No Vote to just 32.1 Yes Votes in favour.