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Electoral Reforms




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Postings not related to the writing of the Manifesto or policy chapters
are likely to be summarily rejected. Thanks for your understanding. IPI
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    RK Dhanvada has raised a core issue which must receive due attention
from the Group. There is no chance of achieving anything like a sustained
12% growth over ten years without reforming the present dysfunctional
political and adminstrative systems. Change of economic policy is necessary
but not sufficient.
    Electoral reforms may be dealt with at three levels, namely, the
electoral process, the election system, and the political theory of
democracy
itself. I am only flagging the issues for debate.
    In the electoral process, incorporation of a 'negative' vote would have
somewhat
limited impact since in the 'first-past-the-post' sytem of elections that we
have the candidate with the highest number of votes, even if it is a meagre
10 or 15%, would be declared elected anyway. To have a real impact it should
be combined with other reforms. The most important ones are: (1) ensuring
complete accuracy of electoral rolls by including all the eligible voters
and by eliminating bogus and non-existent voters, (2) issuing voter
identitiy cards to all, (3) making voting compulsory, (4) debarring
candidates
with criminal background, and (5) ensuring intra-party democracy
(that obtains in most developed countries) in the nomination of candidates.
    On the electoral system, the reforms that merit attention are: (1)
stipulating a 50% plus vote for the candidate to be elected, through a
run-off election if necessary, (2) inclusion of the right to recall. Another
important reform is to link the tenure of the elected body to the functional
needs
of governance at each level. (Introduction of the 'proportional
representation'
system that people talk of will only exacerbate rather than cure the evils
of the present system.)
    With the recent amendments to the Constitution, we have five tiers of
government, viz, Centre, State, District, Mandal, Village. (Whether we
should have five tiers is a different debate.) Direct elections are required
to be
held for each of the five tiers. This is not a bad idea if the functions
devolving on each tier are clearly identified and overlapping avoided.
But, what is wrong with the election system is that a five year tenure is
fixed
for the elected  bodies in all the five tiers. In the context of
globalisation,
there may well be a case for continuity of policy at the Centre over a
longer
period than five years.
    On the other hand, the essential check in a democracy is the need for
the elected representatives to get their mandate renewed periodically. Five
years may not be the appropriate period for all the tiers of government. For
example, the functions of the village panchayats (and their urban
counterparts,
the ward committees) are not such that continuity of policy is required for
a
long period of five years. Annual elections may be more appropriate.
    If a more frequent renewal of mandate is fixed at some level, it will
have a salutary effect on governance at all levels. With elections to
different legislatures falling due at different times there is some such
impact
now. But, a more streamlined arrangement is called for.
    Now to the political theory. The classical model of democracy (literal
meaning: rule by the people) owed its inspiration to the writings of
Rousseau and
Mill. It was participatory in nature, a ‘direct democracy’ as was the case
with the original city states in Athens and our own gram panchayats.
    Subsequent political theories gave rise to 'representative democracy'.
Democracy is equated with governance by the ‘political elite’. Schumpeter
goes so far as to define democracy as “an institutional arrangement for
arriving
at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by
means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote”. The process of
periodically electing ‘representatives’ is seen as sufficient involvement of
the people in the democratic process.
    ‘Representative democracy’ is based on a rather cynical view of the
capabilities of the electorate to govern themselves, coupled with an
idealistic view of the ‘representative’ politicians as competent,
responsible and responsive people with no axe to grind. The opposite is the
case with participative democracy. It is based on a cynical view of how
politicians behave once they get elected and a romantic view of the
‘citizen-politician’.
    Representative democracy has come to pass partly “because of scale and
the distance between an event and the time people found out about it – the
information float”, as Naisbitt points out. With the great strides made by
the print and electronic media including the internet in recent times, this
information float is now almost eliminated thus throwing open the
possibility of exercising direct choices. The progress made by the media and
in computer technology also necessitates participatory democracy as people
have become more conscious and up to date on issues connected with
governance and would not like to be taken for granted.
    The time has thus come to revitalise the democratic model. There is no
denying that it is just not possible for all the people to decide all the
time on all public matters. But, there should be scope for the people to
govern themselves in at least some areas. If we can identify such areas,
say, street cleaning, garbage collection, maintaining water supply etc, we
would have made a beginning in restoring the faith of the people in the
democratic process and in making them more assertive. Besides. there
could be elected bodies other than the the legislatures, such as the
school boards at the county level in the U.S. where more professional
participation could be secured. With the colonial legacy still lingering  in
our minds, without introducing some element of participation by the people
in the actual governance,
any reform in the process or in the system would be of no avail.
    Incidentally, the present 'draft' of the policy statement of the Group
seems to draw inspiration from Schumpeter inasmuch as it is wnwilling to
subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in toto but finds it
expedient to explicitly protect the rights of 'elites'. The trouble with
'elitism' in less homogenous societies like ours is that power struggles
ensue and spurious theorising on the legitimacy of competing elites surface;
to wit, Hitler's theory of Aryan supremacy and our own theories of the
superiority of the 'twice-born'. Genuine democracy implies a deeper
commitment to human dignity and welfare without any stratification.
KS

-----Original Message-----
From: SRK Systems <srk@nde.vsnl.net.in>
To: debate@indiapolicy.org <debate@indiapolicy.org>
Date: 11 January, 1999 10:54
Subject: Electoral Reforms with Right to Reject


>
>----------------------------------------------------------------------
>Postings not related to the writing of the Manifesto or policy chapters
>are likely to be summarily rejected. Thanks for your understanding. IPI
>----------------------------------------------------------------------
>[No editing of this mail has been done. Moderator]
>
>Dear Sanjeev,
>
>With the flurry and quality of mails being received after subscribing to
>the site, I have now recovered to get the grasp of the issues being
>debated. Its excellent and I am recommending to all who have a sense of
>purpose in this country.
>
>There is one issue that has always been close to my heart and at every
>opportunity I express that with the last one being sent to MS Gill,
>Chief Election Commissioner. But just as expected no reply. So this
>forum has come at the most appropriate time. Please edit this mail
>appropriately and circulate to all the members to keep the heat of
>debate on and sure soon it will emerge in the agenda as a consensus
>view. It goes like this :
>
>In this country India, arm chair intellectualism though very much
>appreciated does not really get translated into reality. One of the
>issues is the Right to Reject through Ballot Box. When in any election,
>the voters should have an option to stamp on a column " None of the
>Above ". in the same ballot paper. If the 50% of the votes polled go
>into this count, then all the candidates should be debarred for three
>consecutive elections. That area can remain unrepresented for one year.
>Let the election be held when in the next one only those candidates will
>participate who would have done some ground work with the mass.
>
>This is true empowerment of the electorate. Yes , all the existing
>political parties are petrified in allowing such a system be
>implemented. It only requires the Chief Election Commissioner to just
>initiate the rule without fear of the consequence. Judiciary in India at
>Supreme Court still has semblance of understanding the seriousness will
>reject any litigation. The Bureaucracy will frustrate this measure with
>their interest as usual.  So it is CEC only who with a single mind
>avoiding all the committee type measure immediately implement.
>
>I wrote to all the political leader of reckon. Its just a wonderful
>opportunity for them to take the initiative. That person will regarded
>as the Statesman thereafter and remembered for posterity. But trust them
>to react !!
>
>Lets create an opinion wave with debate here. Hope some other democracy
>may pick up this idea where once it becomes a global opinion movement,
>then back in India , the system will have to accept.
>
>The suggestion may not be that simplistic but the idea is to empower
>them with the Right to Reject. The specimens participating in the
>present election and the way they keep winning, we all have become a
>mute spectators. Lets the political parties shape up with some concrete
>work as a consequence.
>
>There has to be time frame as again the election clouds are hovering.
>Its now the time to beat the system.
>
>Well Sanjeev, please unleash this debate.
>
>With best wishes
>
>I am
>
>RK Dhanvada
>SRK Systems
>Microsoft Solution Providers
>Allahabad 211002, India
>E mail: srk@nde.vsnl.net.in
>               rk@allahabadcity.com
>
>
>
>
>
>--------------------------------------------------------------------------
>This is the National Debate on System Reform.       debate@indiapolicy.org
>Rules, Procedures, Archives:            http://www.indiapolicy.org/debate/
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>




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This is the National Debate on System Reform.       debate@indiapolicy.org
Rules, Procedures, Archives:            http://www.indiapolicy.org/debate/
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