Towards Electoral Reforms
February 10, 2013
India's elected house fails to truly represent the public's opinion. What do we do?
Recently, the two major national parties of India had their presidential sessions. While one party tried to make its dynastic feudalism look like democracy, the other had daggers drawn inside and seemed to lack consensus on any given topic. With the 2014 elections closing in, and the country growing restless with numerous un-addressed issues, the lack of political leadership and options is pointing towards the continuation of the long unsolved political crisis of India.
The restlessness is growing. The drought will soon end. There are two ways, or rather natural consequences from the current political standpoint of India. The first path leads to anarchy, or in Indian electoral terms, a dwindling number of voters with each passing election. This might be followed by the emergence of a new political power essentially communist in nature.
The second path is a situation when the political class of India finally realizes, that with growing restlessness among the youth of India (which constitutes 65% of the country's population), it is unavoidable that Indian politics opens up to the young men and women fighting on streets. This leads to massive reforms in Indian democracy and young blood from outside dynastic families pumped into the veins of India.
I strongly wish for the second scenario.
India needs to change it's electoral process into something more meaningful, clean, and transparent. In order to do so, we have to look beyond our existing First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system. As Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, a political reformer and the founder and President of Lok Satta Party puts it
- "In FPTP, the total share of a candidate’s or party’s vote has no relevance. What matters is getting at least one more vote than the nearest rival. There are no second prizes in a winner-take-all system. The candidate is therefore desperate to woo the marginal vote for victory. In a poor country with rampant corruption, vote-buying is inevitable to induce the marginal voter. People rarely vote for the best candidate or party; as they hate to see their votes “wasted” on sure losers. The two dominant candidates/parties alone matter; and all behave similarly to get marginal votes. No matter who wins, they adopt similar methods, and nothing fundamentally changes after elections. And therefore, many voters, particularly those not induced by money, tend stay away from elections."
Well, in a two party system like the US or Britain, FPTP is a reasonable reflection of public will. But when there are multiple choices, the results are often skewed and distorted. A small change in vote-share leads to a disproportionate increase or decrease in the number of seats won by a political party. For example, the Samajwadi Party in 2007 UP state elections had a 25% share. In the 2012 state elections, their share increased by almost 4 percent. But it won an additional 127 seats, an increase of 131%. Congress also increased its vote-share by 3%, but gained only six additional seats. It is not the public will, but the marginal voters who make and break governments in India, and our elected house fails to truly represent the public's opinion.
It has to be understood that Indian politics still has a good number of honest leaders and parties which are genuinely working to improve things. However, the present electoral system leaves them with no choice but to succumb to the madness which involves gaining power and influence. They are forced to deploy not the most desirable candidates, but those who can somehow win the marginal vote. Large amounts of money is ploughed into vote-buying and politics becomes an arena for caste leaders, millionaires and criminals with muscle power.
In order to reform our electoral democracy, and open it up for honest citizens, we must start looking for an alternative electoral framework in which vision, policies, hard work and ideology matter over the marginal votes. Many democracies across the world have adapted newer and more robust electoral mechanisms like the Proportional Representation (PR) system. Countries like Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Russia, France, Austria, among many others, today follow the PR system.
In a PR system, the competing parties get seats in the assembly in proportion to their votes in each state. Besides being a better reflection of popular will, it is also more scientific and less expensive.
If deployed in India, a PR electoral system will make the entire vote buying process redundant as a few more votes in a constituency at the cost of the overall party image will not be profitable. Voters will be more interested in showing up, as they will know that each of their votes is really being counted. Centrist and unifying policies will emerge, and the divisive agendas will perish.
The parties will be able bring forward better people and seek votes on logical and honest grounds. Politics will open up for more and more able and genuine people. In the longer term, a vibrant and rejuvenated democracy will evolve. Now that's a revolution we must look towards!