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India court says voters have right to abstain


GavelPlans by the authorities in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state to make voting in local elections compulsory have been put on hold, with a court saying voters had the right to abstain.

The Gujarat state government had said anyone who failed to take part in elections for civic and village bodies without providing a legitimate excuse would be fined 100 rupees (about $1.50).

It planned to change local laws, making voting compulsory for the first time in the world’s largest democracy.

But the Gujarat high court issued a stay order pending further hearings after a legal challenge by lawyer K R Koshti.

“While staying the new Act, the court observed that the right to vote itself means the right to refrain from voting,” Koshti told AFP.

“The court has granted us interim relief by staying the implementation of the new law.”

The proposal to make voting compulsory in local elections was drawn up when Bharatiya Janata Party leader Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister.

Although he stepped down from the post in May last year after his triumph in India’s general election, the legislation continued to be steered through the state legislature and was finally approved last month.

Modi’s support for the measure has led to expectations that he may try to make voting compulsory in other polls.

India is by far the largest democracy in the world, with 551 million people voting in last year’s general election, a turnout of 66.38 percent. The next general elections are scheduled to take place in 2019.

Gujarat is expected to hold elections for 487 municipalities and other districts in October this year.

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