Members of the electoral college who abstain from voting or vote against party line in the July 17 presidential poll are not liable for disqualification for defection, the Election Commission (EC) clarified on Thursday.
Political parties cannot issue whip to their members to be compulsorily present for the voting or to vote for a certain candidate, the poll panel said and cited two Supreme Court judgements (Kuldip Nayar vs Union of India, 2006, and Pashupati Nath Sukul vs Nem Chandra Jain, 1984) to buttress its observation.
"Accordingly, in the commission's opinion, not voting or voting as per his/her own free will in the presidential election will not come within the ambit of disqualification under the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution and electors are at liberty to vote or not to vote as per their own free will and choice, " an EC statement said.
The commission said it would like to clarify that voting for the office of President of India is not compulsory, like voting in elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, where also there is no compulsion to vote.
It said as per Section 171A(b) of the Indian Penal Code, every elector in the presidential election has the freedom of making a choice to vote for any candidate or not to vote at all, as per his/her free will and choice.
"This will equally apply to the political parties.
They are free to canvas or seek votes of electors for any candidate or request or appeal to them to refrain from voting.
However, the parties cannot issue any direction or whip to their members to vote in a particular manner or not to vote in the election to leave them with no choice, as that would tantamount to offence of undue influence within the meaning of Section 171C of the IPC, " the EC said.
The poll panel observed that voting in the presidential election is different from voting by a Member of Parliament or MLA inside the House and thus would not attract the penal provisions of the Tenth Schedule for having so voted.
"The electors in the presidential election as member of the said electoral college and the voting at such election is outside the House concerned and not a part of the proceeding of the House, " the EC observed.
The electoral college for presidential election comprises elected members of both Houses of Parliament and elected members of the state assemblies.
Nominated members cannot vote.
National Democratic Alliance nominee Ram Nath Kovind will face opposition's candidate Meira Kumar in the July 17 election to the top post.