Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Democracy and Inclusive Elections

Democracy and Electoral Reforms

Talk given in Kolkotta to the Working Group of The Welfare Party of India

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 into mechanisms and instruments and governance. Communities were slowly 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, relegating the rights of communities of people to the backyard of governance. 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 Individual became a obedient citizen. He had to comply with the rule of law that were brought in force in the ordering and re-ordering of the society. Those who did not comply with the changed laws were criminalized and punished.

The rights of individuals were deeply embedded in a form of governance that we now know as democracy. But the point of interest for us in the transformation of communities into individuals is the emergence of citizen as an essential component of the mechanism of governance. With a heavy taxation system in place as a duty of the citizen the transformation of the citizen into a tax payer was also set in motion.

The arrival of the citizen as tax payer was coupled with another engineered phenomenon at the global level. The enlightened individual took upon himself the unprecedented task of ‘discovering’ the world. This 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. Discovery simultaneously meant plundering, not only material resources but dignity, rights and the bodies of communities of people who were easily dumped as barbarians.

Globalization refers to the efforts to render a civilized face to the plunder of world’s resources essentially in the hands of a few individuals. In this order human beings become non-entities. Only citizens and tax-payers are recognized with rights and services. Nations paved way for nation-states with the fabrics of individuals and tax-payers.

A dire need in the globalizing order and re-ordering was the capturing of power to govern. Missionary enterprises became a handy tool in ‘softening’ of the ‘barbarians’ with the messages of love and forgiveness sugar coated also with unlimited supply of cheese, chocolates, milk power, blankets. These became the foundations of plundering the dignity, rights, land and her resources, forests and ultimately power to govern. The enlightened citizens of a globalizing world had to have a legitimizing face for criminal plunder and looting. Democracy provided this legitimizing face. Democracy has come to be the sweetness of a camouflage for all the evils that are wrought in the name of freedom, liberalism, accumulation, profit, limitless surplus, production of weapons of mass destruction, war and ultimately violent transgression of the sovereignties of nations.

The Globalization Order

The ordering and re-ordering of the society with an inextricable obligation on the citizen had its ineluctable consequences for the rest of the world.

1.     Democracy as power of the people was re-ordered to become power in the hands of a few to crush disempowered people and nations.
2.     Freedom became limited to the capacity to enter into a cutthroat mechanism called level playing field.
3.     Justice led to the criminalization of masses of people, communities and even nations and new laws to punish and banish such ascribed ‘criminals’ from the face of the earth.
4.     Governance, which is the distribution of material and spiritual values was re-ordered to become accumulation of material wealth and power to exclude.
5.     Militarization has been re-ordered to crush unrest within the borders of given nation states instead of protecting the boundaries of nations.
6.     Production of weapons of mass destruction has come to be recognized as the power to establish ‘democracy’ at gun point, leading even to the total destruction of freedom of people.

Thus globalization has become a process by engineered paradigms of dominance have been spread, established, assimilated and universalized as the irreversible mechanisms of the governance of nations states. It is this irreversibility that provides a global legitimacy to the modern and postmodern looters to capture accumulative governance in the entire world.

Modern democracy that has come to represent governance of nation states is no more possible except through one or other form of representation. Postmodernism has come to recognize the inevitability of multiculturalism. But keeping in line with its essential trajectory of accumulation, multiculturalism is also an engineered process to further accentuate the need for individual identities as inalienable component of democratic governance. Representation is engineered through electoral processes in such a way that this element of accumulation will always remain intact. 

Democracy and India

India, which is a victim of such skewed instruments and mechanisms of governance, that is colonial democracy, is religiously following the general psyche of all oppressed people. Franz Fanon has succinctly put this psyche in his psycho analysis of the psyche of the black people. Every Black thinks that his ultimate achievement in life is to become a white. This is much evidenced also in India’s strenuous efforts to blindly imitate her oppressors in all possible ways and her borrowing of the instruments and mechanisms of governance from the dominant world. On the other hand it is also very true that in the transfer of power in 1947, it was into the hands of those who believed that accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a dominant few that the power to govern India was handed over. 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.

As in the rest of the world India’s legacy of governance has gone through all the historical phases that the West has gone through. The only difference is that India went through a phase of enlightenment much before even Jesus was born. It is not an accident that Buddha’s enlightenment was crushed in the land of its origin by the hegemonic forces of Brahminism who governed the many nations that constituted India through the Kautilyan principles of loot, exploitation, cheating, brute force. Thus though Globalization is new to India, the mechanisms of postmodern globalization in India are deeply rooted in the ancient principles of Brahminic hegemony. India is in a mindless hurry to get into the fastest lanes of a globalizing world. The way it has opened its economic corridors and doors to the ‘developed’ countries and the way its citizens have gone all over the world to establish their business bears witness to the principles of accumulative governance.

India’s Representative Democracy

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 whom Hindu divinity has ordained to be dominant. Thus the element of re-ordering in the Hindu society will be badly missed in an order of globalization. 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?

Any Hope?

Of course yes!

Democracy is more about share in power than about representation.

Democracy is more about governance than about rule of law

Democracy is more about equal opportunity than about level playing field

Democracy is more about inclusion of all sections than about subscribing to dominant groups

A Different Electoral System

Many nations in the world have already started realizing the fragility of systems of governance that they have created. Efforts are being made to reverse their own folly. 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. 

Perhaps it was this realization that led the makers of the Constitution of India to heated discussion on the choice of appropriate electoral system for India. Unfortunately, it turned out to be Muslim leaders on one side and all others on the other side. Syed Karimuddin Saheb and Mehboob Ali Saheb vehemently argued for PR system while all the others wanted the FPTP system. Finally it was decided to go with the British FPTP system under the argument that with only 15% literacy it was impossible for Indian voters to understand the intricacies of PR system.

Much before the debates in the Constituent Assembly Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Babasaheb Ambedkar spearheaded the fight for political nationalism in India and constitutional governance already in the 1930s. Unfortunately Gandhi spoiled a true democratic emergence through his fast unto death against separate electorate and made the separation of Pakistan inevitable. In 1930 Jawaharlal Nehru had openly said that India should have PR system.

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. As a consequence CERI prepared a tailor-mad policy for PR system in India. This policy book was released by the Chief Election Commissioner of India in Delhi on 09 February 2012. This was immediately followed by a national conference in Delhi.

Why do we need Proportional Electoral System in India?

First we must understand that representation through elections must lead to share in power and not create an illusion that by casting votes our duty as citizens is over. The FPTP 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 our Electoral System

1.     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.

2.     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.

3.     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.

4.     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.

5.     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.

6.     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.

7.     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.

8.     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 from the party list that they submitted to the Election Commission before the elections. This is a huge difference that a party that was unable to win even a single seat in the FPTP system will be able to gain 28 seats under the PR system simply based on the percentage of votes that it gains.  

Some Salient Features of PR System

*    More than 80 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 of election in order to provide adequate and meaningful representation to all sections of people.

*    The efforts to tinker with the FPTP system to the already changed political scenario in India is much more complicated and problematic than developing an understanding of the PR system among voters. 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 the 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.

*    Countries with PR system have already proved to provide more stable and more inclusive governments.

The anomaly of parties with less percentage of vote share forming governments will easily be avoided in the PR system.

PR Measures for India

1.     Mixed Member Proportional Representation with 70:30

2.     Two Votes

3.     Closed List system

4.     Representation of Minorities, Dalits, Adivasis, MBCs, Women etc. special measure in the Party List

5.     1% or 3 Seats Threshold

6.     Webster Method of counting

7.     Internal Party democracy

8.     State Funding

9.     One Day elections

10. Gerrymandering – Not allowed

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