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PREDEBATE: Poll reform
Check out this interesting article in Hindustantimes about Poll reforms.
For a change, the authour says he's opening the issue to "National Debate." Anyone
wants to read this and give their thoughts? I think we ought to form a separate
task-force to look into this vital issue of democracy. Any takers?
Sanjeev: Can we add section under each task force called "reference material" and
place such specific material over there for people's research use. I know that
we already have a general reading section. Has your super-fast brain already
thought this up and your agile fingers finished the job long ago?
Here's the text of the article for your convenience
Election vs democracy
(Surinder Singla on poll reform)
As a rule, Indians have inexhaustible patience to live with problems and
they surrender to the times affecting changes. After every general election
in India, new problems get added and old problems are aggravated.
The major problem of India's elections is that the representative character
of our legislatures is under a grave threat as popular will remains
unexpected both in Parliament and State legislatures. Muscle and money
power plays an increasing role with every election. The process of election
from the filing of nominations to the final settlement of election disputes
is so vitiated that even a multi-member Election Commission and a
voluntary code of conduct evolved by parties could do little to improve
India's political parties seem unable and even unwilling to solve these
problems so that public faith in the functioning of democracy may be
Two major reports on electoral reforms the Goswami committee report of
1990 and the Tarkunde committee on electoral reforms 1975 have not led
to changes in electoral laws. The recent all-party meeting convened by
Home Minister L. K. Advani could only decide on lowering the age of
contesting candidates from various legislatures and on forming a new
committee to suggest State funding of elections.
In constituting the Tarkunde committee, Jayaprakash Narayan and the
Citizens for Democracy emphasised the prime position of the electoral
system than suggest appropriate measures of reform to ensure free and fair
elections so as to reflect accurately the popular will. The committee was
merely impressed by the near unanimity of opinion on the basic promise
that the present system of election of "first past the post" does not
lead to a fair reflection of the "popular will" in the legislature.
The seat-vote distortion has assumed grave dimensions. In the five decades
of the working of the Constitution, both single party rule and coalition
governments at the Centre have won no more than a minority of votes
polled and yet have commanded a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha with
even the numbers to amend the Constitution in basic aspects. The seat-vote
distortion is refusing to go away. In the present Lok Sabha the Congress
secured the highest percentage of votes (25.93 per cent) followed by the
BJP (25.2 per cent). Yet the BJP won over 180 seats while the Congress
got only 141 seats. The inequities of the system have now led to a major
controversy and strident demands for electoral reforms in Britain. The
Tarkunde committee said: The committee has heard evidence on this point
both from those who support a system of Proportional Representation and
others who have expressed the fear that such a system might well lead to
political fragmentation and give rise to a large number of parties on the
basis of caste, religion, language or parochial interests and increase the
power of the party caucus over individual members of the party. "
As the representative character of legislatures is unreflective of the
popular will, the policies emanating from such legislatures are bound to be
at variance with the peoples' needs and aspirations. Enforcing such
legislation would trap the Indian people in unending and costly litigation.
It would also bind Indians to such legislation as would provoke people to
rebuke Parliament. India's outstanding achievement in political life is the
conduct of elections in a manner that spread public awareness. This has
helped various sections of the population to move towards mainstream
decision-making. This is reflected in the growing demand for reservations
in every area of government including the political set-up. The Indian
people are wise enough to understand that public position of political
parties are in total opposition to the private expressions of majorities in
The fate of the women's reservation bill explains this stark fact. Perhaps,
political parties should agree on a national referendum on issues of a
far-reaching nature. An unrepresentative Parliament and fragmented
parties have no legitimate right to agree on radical changes in law and the
constitution; these must be left to the people of this country. It is possible
to obtain such a mandate from the people if the electoral system is
Now, I would like to move to a crucial area that is India's political parties.
Indian political parties have been claiming that they are committed to the
cause of democracy and their regular participation in the electoral process
is enough of evidence to prove their faith and commitment.
The truth is, in their functioning political parties have little regard for the
democratic principle. Is it not true that the ruling leadership of the BJP has
alternated between Mr Advani and Mr Vajpayee for the last 20-30 years?
Other parties are no exception. Indian political parties have not changed
and are not willing to change. The Goswami report of 1990 clearly states
that there is no consensus of the regulation of the functioning of political
parties. The Election Commission has amply demonstrated that it has no
power under Section 29 A of the People's Representation Act. The
problems of democratic functioning of the smaller and regional parties are
more serious as these are led by individuals.
In the absence of a democratic party system, the Indian political genius has
invented the "high command". This has effectively replaced the parties'
democratic structure. By its very nature, the party high command is
undemocratic. It is 'selective' rather than 'elective'.
To strengthen inner-party democracy and electoral democracy, the system
needs basic reforms. I suggested a few on the following lines: A small
change in the electoral system by adopting multiple candidates by the
contesting parties rather than field one candidate in each constituency
would make the elections more democratic and representative. Let us
assume that each contesting party is allowed to put four/ five candidates
including a woman and giving representation to various caste/communities
in the given constituency. This will take care of the contentious issues of
women's reservation in the legislatures.
Thus every constituency will have a woman candidate for the electorate to
choose. To decide the winner, the party that polls highest aggregate votes
is the winner and the candidate who gets the highest votes amongst the
winning party's four/five candidates gets elected from the constituency.
Under this system the supremacy-popularity of the contesting parties is
established in terms of polled votes. Of the winning party thus established,
the candidate of this party who secures the highest number of votes
establishes his or her popularity.
To illustrate, let us assume there are five candidates of party X and they
poll say 1.40 lakh, 1.00 Iakh, 80,000, 60,000 and 20,000 each which total
up to 4 lakh votes. In case of party Y the votes polled are 1.6 lakh, 50,000,
30,000, 10,000 and 5,000 which total up 2,55,000. Under this scheme of
things as the party X secures higher number of total votes polled is the
winner and its candidate securing 1.4 lakh votes gets elected though he has
polled less than the highest vote catcher of party Y.
This will give following advantages to the system.
1. By adopting the reform, the winner would be the most popular candidate
of a party rather than a nominee picked by the 'high command'. This would
be the most democratic way of choosing party nominees and would strengthen
the party at the grassroot level. The point in all the four/five candidates
of the party would compete with each other to be closer to the electorate
and the party feedback would immensely increase and would be an effective
"policy input" which is badly needed for the legislatures to evolve
2. Further, with growing demands for empowerment by quotas,
multiplicity of candidates would meet the aspirations of new classes and
communities looking for recognition.
3. Multiple candidates of party or parties will ensure a bigger mobilisation
of the electorates in increasing the poll percentage. Such a highly
participative democracy would make every Indian committed to
democracy and ensure healthier functioning of democracy.
4. The system of multiple candidates would also help the people's
representatives to be more responsive to the constituency. In fact, this will
put an end to political 'Jagirdari' as the present system of party nomination
works in the name of a mythical "high command".
In the final analysis, I would like to quote the Tarkunde committee: "There
is considerable merit in the alternative system of representations but a
matter of this nature should, in the national interest, be the subject of
widespread public discussions out of which a consensus may emerge." I am
placing this new approach to electoral reforms for a national debate.