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Right to Recall

"...In our Legislatures, the efficacy of our parliamentary polity and the vitality of our nation are put to test on a continuous basis. It is on the floor of the Legislatures that accountability of our political system has to be ensured. That being so, it is of utmost importance that the members, chosen to represent the people, remain ever vigilant and sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people and committed to serve them. At the same time, they should refrain from doing anything that could undermine the efficacy of Parliamentary democracy for the country. The people's right to recall a representative who fails to live up to their expectations is an important democratic tool that can help in infusing a better sense of accountability among the legislators and I plead for its incorporation in our electoral system.,..."

- Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr. Som Nath Chatterjee

The Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr. Somnath Chatterjee, has repeatedly called for the introduction in India of a constitutional device that would provide the right to recall Members of Parliament if they are found to be "incompetent, insensitive, corrupt or indifferent to the duties, or indulge in activities unbecoming that of a Member of Parliament both inside and outside". Mr. Chatterjee suggests that voters should be in a position to demand the recall of their represen- tatives before the expiry of their term by presenting a petition to a designated authority.

Recall is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected representative from office. It was one of the major electoral reforms advocated by leaders of the Progressive moment in the US during the twentieth century. The recall device began in the United States in the Los Angeles municipality in 1903. Michigan and Oregon, in 1908, were the first states to adopt recall procedures for state officials; Minnesota was the most recent (1996) example. The right to recall has been largely successful in terms of local bodies rather than for state officials. In the US, only two governors have been successfully recalled In 1921 - North Dakota's Lynn J Frazier was recalled over a dispute about state-owned industries, and in 2003, California Governor Gray Davis was recalled over mismanagement of the state budget.

The British Columbia province of Canada enacted a representative recall law in 1995. Voters in that province can petition to have a sitting representative removed from office, even a premier leading a government. If enough registered voters sign the petition, the Speaker of the legislature announces before the House that the member has been recalled and a bye-election follows as soon as possible. In January 2003, a record 22 recall efforts been launched. No one has technically been recalled.

Article 72 of the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela enables the recall of any elected representative, including the president. The recall clause has been used in the Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004, which attempted to remove president Hugo Chavez.

Along with 'referendum' and 'initiative', the right to recall is a crucial tool by which accountability is ensured in a democratic state. A recall election is a procedure by which an official can be voted out of power. The reasons for removal may be specifically laid out in some countries or vaguely understood in others.

The reasons to move a recall procedure vary. Only seven of the US states have laid out specific grounds. The reasons include incompetence, physical or mental lack of fitness, neglect of duties, corruption, act of malfeasance or misconduct while in office and violation of oath of office. What exactly constitutes incompetence has become a debatable nuance of the procedure. The official is caught in a fix whether or not to enact what he or she essentially feels to be the right choice for the people or practice something that the public assumes to be apt. This, in a way, pushes for short-term thinking over long-term planning. Invariably, the official ends up trying to come up with policies that appease the public. Well-financed groups can manipulate this loophole to pursue their vested interests. Thus, a potent democratic tool can be a threat to the stability of the government.

This electoral device maybe moved whenever the electorate is dissatisfied with the performance of the elected official. Those who wish to remove an official need to raise a petition with the signatures of a percentage of the number of people who voted for that official in the previous election. Signature requirements are based on a formula, which varies with each state. Sometimes, it is also based on the number of eligible voters or other variants. Once the required percentage has been attained, a special election is held. If the majority of those who participate want the official removed, then this happens. Someone voted in through special elections or through subsequent elections replaces the incumbent official. Occasionally, the second half of the form during the recall elections has provision to choose a replacement.

The recall provision in a way delineates the fundamental duty of an elected official - being answerable to the electorate that has voted the person to power. It, however, is different from the other provisions like impeachment. Recall is a political device while impeachment is a legal procedure. A referendum maybe conducted for the initiation of a recall procedure, which in effect would be legally binding.

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