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Right to recall – How to get politicians to reform the system!

May 19, 2012

Right to recall is extremely powerful in a democracy – people can maintain control over elected reps!

However, even if government agrees to give us a ‘right to recall’, the practical issue is deciding the trigger to hold a recall election…how to gather people’s views? Signatures are difficult to obtain and authenticate. Conducting an official vote is expensive and time-consuming.

Solution: ‘Recall agreement’. No need for govt. to do anything!

A typical recall agreement should have the following features:

  • voluntary but publicly disclosed agreement between an electoral candidate/party and a citizen-group ( a pressure group or an issue based votebank)
  • the pressure group promises to help the candidate(s) get elected by campaigning / voting for him
  • the candidate/party, in return, promises to take certain defined actions and/or follow the pressure group’s guidance in his conduct as an elected rep. On agreement violation, pressure group can ask candidate to step down.
  • Can’t force the elected rep to do something or vote in the legislature in a particular manner (in a democracy, that should remain the elected rep’s prerogative). The pressure group can only force him to step down if he doesn’t honor the agreement.

Will any candidate/party enter into such an agreement?

Yes, if he/it:

  • broadly concurs with the pressure group’s position on most issues or issues defined in the agreement
  • trusts its intentions, and
  • trusts its ability to swing the election in his/its favor

Candidates/parties who do not enter into such an agreement will not be subject to recall but their chances of getting elected itself will be lower if another candidate is supported by a credible pressure group.

Key is to start with relatively non-controversial /easy to implement demands even if impact is small. Demonstration of impact and good intentions will allow us to demand more meaningful things.

eg: In upcoming Himachal assembly elections, IAC can offer to support any political party that promises to field zero/very few candidates with criminal records. No need for any recall agreement. Just give tickets to clean candidates and increase your seats!! (IAC’s preference should be to support bigger parties given their higher likelihood of forming government).

Can a pressure group (like IAC) swing elections?

Winning requires ~40% of votes but a pressure group only needs to swing ~5-10 % votes towards the candidate in 2nd or 3rd position to help him win. So, serious but unsure candidates will immensely value even relatively small pressure groups.

Will this make the pressure group too powerful?


  • Pressure group’s survive on popular support (needs credible leaders, broadly acceptable ideas, transparency, accountability, etc.)
  • Success will encourage competition,  innovation and accountability (cut any chances of any one group, becoming too powerful)
  • Power will be restricted only to issues publicly agreed. People will vote for a pressure group supported candidate only if they agree with the pressure group’s position.

Like all reform ideas, don’t we need the government’s help to establish legal validity to a recall agreement?

No, such agreements are probably already valid!!

No specific electoral law prohibiting a ‘recall agreement’. However, our courts may (incorrectly) strike down such an agreement –  ‘opposed to public policy’.

It’s really worth a try. If the winning party/candidate doesn’t honor the agreement post election, then approach court to enforce it (its a voluntary agreement between 2 adults, doesn’t violate rights of the general public because they voted the candidate into office knowing fully well that the pressure group has influence over the candidate).

If the agreement is upheld, the implications are enormous. Even if the agreement is shot down or the government brings in a law treating such agreements as void, the pressure groups can still help candidates win election and extract promises in return. Candidates for their own good will stick to their promises as long as there are pressure groups capable of swinging elections.

  1. Apoorv permalink

    I got to say, i am mightily impressed with you suggestions..The concept of pressure group is excellent.. Good job buddy:)

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  1. DRAFT: Humble suggestions for AAP « Democracy4India

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