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Follow the link given below to read M C Raj Author’s article on Democracy and Electoral Systems in Merinews from Gurgaon, Haryana.


Democracy and Electoral Reforms

 M C Raj

The Way Democracy Arrived

Present state of affairs in the world needs to be traced from 16 century, from the beginning of the period of enlightenment. This was also the end of monarchy and feudalism. Both these refer to predominant forms of governance of nations. The emergence of enlightenment announced the arrival of individualism, liberalism, bio-power, discipline, ordering and re-ordering of the society according to the need and convenience of dominant order. Communities were replaced by the inalienable focus on individual and the rights of individuals. The underlying economic paradigm was that the individual’s right to accumulate and amass wealth and profit was unquestionable. In as much as the state was expected to protect the rights of the individual to indulge in mindless accumulation, he was also expected to do some duties to the state. The primary duty was to pay taxes to the State. The other duty was compliance.  The rights of individuals were deeply embedded in a form of governance that we now know as democracy. The discovery of the world strongly meant the invention of ways and means of exploiting the wealth and resources of different continents, especially from people who lived in harmony with nature without giving event the slightest thought to exploiting Mother Earth and cosmic rhythm. Thus from distribution of wealth and power democracy was transformed into accumulation of power and wealth by a few dominant individuals.

Democracy and India

In India transfer of power in 1947 went into the hands of those who believed that accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a dominant few. Thus there is no surprise that India is governed in the same way that it opposed governance while the British were governing India. Looked at both ways, as a blind imitator and as a hegemonic force, India has become an inseparable partner of this grand enterprise of globalization. There is no wonder then, that India has opted for the British system of a representative democracy in order to sustain and nurture dominant power in the hands of a powerful few. In India the powerful few will specifically mean a few castes. India’s globalization and modernization will have this specific dimension of consolidating the archaic principles of caste governance. Just as ‘democracy at gun-point’ of the US and the West has effectively stifled the democratic aspirations of many communities and nations of peoples, India has also crushed the democratic aspirations of many Minorities, Triabls, Dalits, Adivasis and women. India’s continuing governance of certain states of India with AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) is an indisputable evidence of this hegemonic praxis of democratic governance. It is a stark contradiction in terms and praxis. But then, is there any need to say that India’s caste governance has thrived well on contradictions?

A Different Electoral System

One of the major changes that has come about in recent past is the endeavor to change the mechanisms of representative democracy. Some nations have taken conscious and strenuous efforts to usher in true representation of all citizens in the instruments and mechanisms of governance. This has been done by ushering in the Proportionate Electoral System in the place of Majoritarian Electoral System. India has borrowed the British legacy of the First Past The Post (FPTP) system, which is a majoritarian electoral system. Changing electoral system is not a panacea for all the problems that a country faces. But when it comes to governance, electoral system plays a crucial role and if an appropriate system is not put in place it could spell a doom for the entity of a nation.

Sporadic voices are heard in the Parliament clamoring for PR system in India. But these voices have till now remained feeble. In 1999, the National Law Commission has made a strong recommendation to the Government of India to usher in PR system. It is in 2008 that CERI was started with an avowed purpose of changing the electoral system of India to a appropriate PR system. The Campaign was started after many years of work among the poor and substantial research on electoral systems in five countries. Among the many programmes CERI organized, the most significant one is the Workshop of electoral systems experts from all over the world. This was organized in Berlin, Germany in October 2011.

Why do we need Proportional Electoral System in India?

Representation through elections must lead to share in power and not create an illusion that by casting votes the duty of citizens is over. The First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system in India is grossly disproportional between the percentage of votes and percentage of seats. Such disproportion leads to exclusion of minorities and concentration of power in the hands of powerful group of people who are smaller than many minority groups in India.

Some Issues that Beset India’s FPTP

  • India is a multi party democracy and therefore, renders the FPTP system of elections redundant and unrepresentative. It invariably produces ruling party or parties that are not mandated by majority of the voters in India.
  • FPTP is suitable for enhancing representation in any country with two party democracy. In this case a clear majority for one party will be the outcome and a clear majority of voters will be able to give mandate to political parties to govern. This is clearly not the case in India.
  • India has already arrived at coalition politics irreversibly both at the Center and in the States, and many of our electoral problems, sometimes even crisis such as corruption, violence, communalism and casteism are because of this misfit of our electoral system to the composition of the democratic governance of our country.
  • India, as a multicultural society is in need of special provisions for historically oppressed minorities, Dalits, Adivasis/Tribals, MBCs and women. Such provisions have to be integrated into the electoral system itself in order to enable such communities to come to level playing fields and gradually grow out of the present ‘reserved seats’ for only SC/ST categories.
  • The present FPTP system has proved beyond doubt that from the time of independence it gives leverage only to certain dominant groups in India to capture and retain power of governance without sharing power with all sections of people. CERI firmly believes that sharing of power is an essential ingredient of any representative democracy and governance.
  • The very idea of majority is skewed in the majoritarian electoral system. In FPTP one does not need to gain a majority of votes to be declared a winner. The candidate has to only gain more votes than the other contestants to be declared winner. It can be less than 10 of the total votes polled. The present Indian parliament has two MPs who have won with only 9.6% votes. This leads to the next issue in FPTP and that is the huge wastage of votes. All votes that are wasted are unrepresented or vice versa.  Any democracy that allows wastage of the votes of her citizens can only be called a sham democracy. In the FPTP system, parties with less than 25% of votes have proved capable of gaining adequate number of seats and subsequently forming governments. This results in huge wastage of votes, which is the antithesis of representative democracy.
  • By its very core principle FPTP professes to declare a candidate with more vote than the others as winner. Similarly it also declares a party with more seats than the other parties as eligible for forming the government. The high risk for democracy in this case is the huge disparity between the share of votes and the share of seats. This often is not a representation of the will of the people. This has the potential to lead to manipulative politics.
  • Rightly or wrongly, a general impression in India has been created that political parties are accountable to none either before or after elections. CERI is in agreement with the argumentation that further empowering of the National Election Commission of India is a serious need in this regard. However, we also like to highlight that inner party democracy in India has received a body blow under the FPTP system. Most countries in the world that have opted for PR system have ensured such inner party democracy.

How Do we Understand Proportionate Electoral System?

Let us take the example of one political leader Mr. X for illustration. He is politically popular in his state and has formed a party of his own. Let us imagine that this leader is from Maharashtra that has 280 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Mr. X is popular all over Maharashtra among people of his community. But there is not a single constituency where his followers live in majority. Under the FPTP system he is unable to win even in a single seat in the elections. After the election results are declared Mr. X realizes that he has 10% of votes in the State of Maharashtra. But with this 10% of scattered votes he is unable to win even one seat. In the PR system seats are allotted according to the percentage of votes that a party gains. Mr. X has to prepare a list of candidates that his party would like to send into the Legislative Assembly in proportion to the percentage of votes that his party would gain. His party gains 10% of votes and will become eligible to have 10% of members in the Legislative Assembly of Maharashtra. This will enable his party to send 28 members to the Assembly. This is a huge difference from FPTP to PR system.

Some Salient Features of PR System

More than 89 countries in the world with democracy have already shifted from FPTP to PR system. India, being the largest democracy in the world with multi party system and coalition politics is ripe to adopt the Proportional Representation electoral system.

Countries with concern for providing representation to minorities have taken recourse to PR system. India, with different types of minority groups will do well to change to PR system in order to provide adequate and inclusive representation to all sections of people.

Since PR system translates all votes into seats it has the best possibility of providing representation to all voters in the first place and also to all minority groups in India.

PR system creates a win-win situation to all parties, as there is the possibility of more than one member representing a constituency through the List PR. This will drastically reduce the play of money and muscle power, corruption, violence, communalism and casteism. As long as the FPTP system is in practice all efforts to reduce corruption in elections are bound to be only a half way journey to a majority of voters, as the system itself promotes cutthroat competition.

Since voters are bound to vote for parties and their ideologies through the List PR, the convergence of voters on ideology based parties will be enhanced much better and correspondingly it will reduce foul play at the time of elections. Needless to say that an ideology based governance is destined to create a strong nation.

If India has to liberate herself of large-scale corruption not only in elections but also in governance, the dire need is to usher in PR system, as more and more countries in the world are doing.

(M C Raj is an award winning author of more than 18 books. He is also a known fiction writer. He has initiated a national campaign for proportionate electoral system in India known as CERI)