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Importance of Electoral Reforms First

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In the past year a lot has happened that was not in the interest of the idea of a more perfect union. The scams of enormous proportion have hit us. The multiplicities of the protests have been undermining our democracy. A whole lot our citizens dying of hunger, disease and as collateral for state policies in theRed corridor and other militarised zones. It has been quite much the same for the past 63 years. The government merely becomes more dysfunctional every passing year. And we move on.

But during this past year there is something that has been happening which if successful will rupture the public discourse on governance in this nation for the better- Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption. Though I don’t disagree with Mr Hazare on the need for eradication of the bad governance which has plagued this nation for far too long, I don’t think that there can be much progress on the issue of corruption unless there are large scale systemic reforms beginning with the Elections reforms. The gates of representative democracy have to be guarded not the guillotine.it is the politics of welfare that has to be overturned. Merely punishing a few of those corrupt and vicious will not lead to a corruption free society.

Mr Hazare thought noble in intent and serious purpose is attacking on the wrong side of the problem to find the right solution. Since he had built up a sizable following, and will in the future contest elections I suppose, he is best placed to agitate for reforms that will truly start to clean up the system. Rather than agitating for Jan Lok Pal, he should consider starting a movement for electoral reforms, which will then enable reasonably good and talented people to enter politics and work towards larger reforms. Contrary to what Mr Hazare has been saying the Jan Lok pal bill will only cut of the dead parts while leaving the diseased body intact. Corruption is merely a symptom of a dysfunctional system.

If we were to reflect a little on the general elections of 2009, it will make a lot of things quite clear about the electoral gaps that exist in India which at the same time is a huge opportunity for reform and new politics emerging. And importance of electoral reforms first.

For the analysis I am only focusing upon the national parties. There were 7 national parties who contested elections all over India in 2009. There are a total of 543 seats in the Indian parliament.

The first observation is, none of the national parties contested for all the 543 seats. Interestingly, BSP was the party which contested the most number of seats, 500 in all and won only 21. The BJP and the INC contested roughly about the same number about 433 and 440 in all wining 116 and 206 respectively. They did not fare any well. The point here is that even after 64 years of independence there is not a single party which can contest from the entire allotted seats. Today there is no party which can claim to represent, the idea of India. This in some respects suggests a compartmented electorate, implying a divided politics. No National party has an appeal throughout the Nation.

The second and most important material for my argument are the number of votes that was cast in the favour of each party.

Total Electors – 71, 69, 85,101 Male – 37, 47, 58,801 Female– 34, 22, 26,300

Total electors who voted -41, 71, 59,281

Total population of India was about 119.8 crores

The observations are quite significant:

1.   The total turnout of the registers votes was only 58.19%, 41.18% of the voters did not cast their votes. For a big democracy like India this is very significant numbering 29, 98, 25,820 or about 30 crore citizens. So, according to this almost half of our population goes unrepresented in the Indian Parliament.

2.   The largest party to emerge from the general elections was the INC which was able to garner about 12 Crore votes. This in percentage terms translates into 16.61% of total electorate, 28.55% of total votes polled and 0.1% of the total population of India. That was the biggest party! The BJP fared no better garnering 10.94% of total electorate, 18.80% of total votes polled and 0.06% of the total population of India. Same with all the others. The point to take note is that representing only about 30% of the popular votes the INC was able to form the government at the centre. And, with about 20% of the popular votes the BJP became the main opposition party.

Now, the electoral system in India is “first past the post”, which means that there is requirement for an absolute majority the winner is he who gets the maximum number of votes. This could vary as much as 70% for a candidate to merely a 20% of the total votes polled. It is often observed that the candidates mostly only secure less than even 40% votes to secure an election. 

With the current electoral system most of the candidates elected are securing only about 30% votes on an average. As the figures show majority of the candidates don not even cross the 50% threshold, whereas ideally they should. So, the first reform must start here, we need to dismantle the whole system of electoral process currently being followed in India.

The candidates can easily manipulate the votes securing the highest numbers yet be far below the ideal majority. In this first past the post system there is absolutely no conventions that have formed over the years which would have at least an unwritten majority warranted. This should have evolved by now. In what kind of a democracy should we have people wining only 10% of the votes and yet be declared winner. This system is has to be replaced.

These are Some Suggestions for Reforms.

1)      All the election to the state and the central legislatures should be held simultaneously on the same day. Only in cases where a person had died during his term in public office should by elections be held. If all the elections are on the same day the voter turnout is bound to increase, and it will also have the parties be more involved with real issues that matter with the public. In due course it will help in the nation integration.

2)      Voting should be made compulsory.

(1)    Over time this will lead to destruction of the vote bank politics that today has become so blatant.

(2)    Political participation and awareness of issues surround the nation will increase.

(3)    Role of money and muscle over time shall decrease.

3)      The important public office bearers should be directly elected by the people.

(1)    The president, The Vice-president and The Prime Minister should be directly elected by the people during the general elections. The whole of the country should have a say as to who the most important officers bearers are. Over time this shall lead to national integration and also bring out national perspectives and issues to the electorate. Most of the elections today only have a regional focus, this need to be expanded towards having national focus. The majority of the citizens of this nation do not know or cannot identify with the President or the Prime Minister. Till the time the President and the Prime Minister are not seen as true leaders, national leaders national integration will be a far cry.

(2)    There should be a provision where the parties put forward the name of their presidential candidates and the candidacy is open to all the citizens who qualify the minimum requirements of solvency, education at least a graduation from a recognised university and a clean background in terms of his finances and law abiding record.

(3)    The elections have to state funded. This is important if the influence of money has to be mitigated. The state could choose to a reasonable deposit from every candidate standing up for elections. Say, about 5 lakhs from every candidate which would be non-refundable.

(4)    Upon the submission of his name for the candidacy of the President of India, he/she will within a month of such submission also announce the name of his Vice- President and the Prime Minister as running mates. So for the period of the election the {presidential candidate shall be the more important of the three in every respect. However, after the election are over he shall go back to his role as the titular head of the government, after which the prime Minister shall become the de facto head of the executive.

(5)    The Prime Minister shall be free to choose his cabinet from within or outside the parliament. None of the cabinet members shall hold seats in the parliament. This will separate the legislature from the executive in total in respective of every day functions. And, it will have the fantastic effect of attracting on the people who are genuinely interested in policy making and public policy. All the current incentives of being elected to the parliament shall be withdrawn.

(6)    They shall only receive salaries and no other perks.

(7)    The electoral expenditure shall be made public by the Election commission.

(8)    Anyone of the name for election to the Parliament having a criminal background shall be disqualified for life. They will not be allowed to stand for election till such time as the purported charges are not cleared by the court of law.

(9)    Reservation and nominations of all types shall be nullified. They have outlived their purpose and will not serve any purpose by extending them. Every one shall be equal before the law and the electorate.

(10)The Presidential elections shall be conducted as primaries, where the remaining candidate shall be eliminated save for two securing the most overall votes.

(11)For the purpose of primaries the country shall be divided into four zones- North, south, east and west. This is necessary so as to come to the final of two candidates most agreeable to the electorate without the parochial chauvinism to influence their choices.

(12)Finally, in the national general elections the presidential candidates shall have to have at least 50 % of the popular votes to be declared a winner.

4)      Now, these changes are going to be revolutionary and will require revolutionary methods of conducting it. Some of the suggestion would be :

a)      The UID (Aadhar) card shall be made compulsory for the purpose of voting doing away with the election cards.

b)      The use of biometric systems shall be developed.

c)       A system where the UID can be punched from poll booths, ATMs, and personal computers and mobile phones should be developed.

d)      A live feed of the votes shall be done, not waiting for weeks before finally counting the votes. All results shall be declared on the eve of the elections.

If these suggestion are given a serious consideration by Mr Hazare and his team, and the people of India at large I think we can form a consensus and revolutionise the way election s are conducted and election themselves. These if implemented will truly take this country to commanding heights among the world nations.

Instead of wasting time and energy fight for a lesser Jan Lokh Pal Bill, the Anna team should stop to reflect on the benefits of fighting a worthy fight for election reforms.

None of the present political parties are going to take these suggestions, the reason being that if would disqualify the majority of their candidate overnight. The mixed legislature and the executive that they love so much will no longer be under their control. And, most importantly it will expose their claims of being all India party. In this type of an election format there is no group or set of people can actually be placated. The benefit is obvious that we will have able and charismatic leader who will truly represent the people of India and the people represent them. The people shall finally vote as one people for one leader.

Now, there of course will be a lot of disagreement to these suggested reforms, the idea is however to stimulate a consensus for reforms. My purpose is experimental in the sense that I wish to engage as many people to engage into a conversation for an idea of a New India. Mr Hazare I sincerely wish you all the best towards your efforts; however at the same time I should like you to think on a large scale with encompassing vision for the future of this nation on this eve of Independence Day.

If this thought process has some semblance of sense to you. And, if you too think that electoral reforms are the need of the hour rather than the Jan Lok Pal, you may consider furthering our efforts by joining the Freedom Team of India (FTI). You should visit www.freedomteam.in

I dedicate these thoughts for a better India to my fellow countrymen.

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country – J.F.Kennedy

Jai Hind!

Disclaimer: The thoughts reflected in this write up are my thought and do not reflect the official views of the FTI in any capacity.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.

This article was first published on the author's blog here


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