India voters get right to reject election candidates

image captionA third of the current members of parliament have criminal cases pending against them

India's Supreme Court has ruled that voters have the right to reject all candidates in elections.

It ordered the Election Commission to provide a button on the voting machine which would give voters the option to choose "none of the above".

The judges said the negative voting would help cleanse the political system in the country.

The option will be available to voters in the assembly polls due in five states later this year.

"Democracy is all about choices and voters will be empowered by this right of negative voting," a bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said in its order on Friday.

The judges said that this "would lead to a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates".

Negative voting is prevalent in 13 countries and even in India, MPs are given the option of abstaining while voting in the parliament, the court said.

The government had opposed the right to reject saying a rejection button will confuse voters and that elections were meant to "elect and not reject".

Activists say if a large number of people in a constituency cast negative votes, it will be a message to political parties to not put up candidates of questionable repute.

A BBC correspondent in Delhi, however, says even if a majority choose the none of the above option, it will not impact election results since negative votes are not counted.

The Supreme Court has recently been trying to clean up Indian politics - in July, the court had ruled that convicted lawmakers must be removed from office.

Earlier this week, the government overturned the court order through a cabinet ordinance.

More than 150 MPs in the 543-seat lower house of parliament are said to be facing criminal charges.

Delhi-based election watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms says across the country there are 1,460 serving lawmakers facing criminal charges.

More on this story