Monday, June 16, 2014

Let us think and Act with an Open Mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 2
A revised version using results of 2014 elections

Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our sinking democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)

Representation of people: Let us assume that, at best, an average of about 70 % of eligible adults vote during elections to Parliament and Assemblies. Most elected persons receive much less than 50% of the total votes cast. Therefore, at best, most elected persons represent less than 35% of adult population, often much less. This proportion will be lower than 35% if we exclude votes of those who do not really contribute to a proper choice of representatives because of their interest in selling their votes or voting in droves! (Refer Article 1). It is a matter of serious concern that out of 543 MPs elected in 2009, the vast majority of 78% had the approval of only less than half of the electorate (Times of India dated 23-03-14). All these clearly show that the claim of the MPs and MLAs that they are representatives of people is hollow.
[Note: Since information about elections to the three tiers of Pamchayat Raj institutions is not well publicized, the above remarks about proportion voting may not be fully relevant for these.]

Even after the spectacular success in 2014 elections, the BJP has the support of only 31% of the electorate!! (Times of India dated 17-05-14, page 1) In other words, it does not have the support of 69% of the electorate, besides all the millions of people below the age of 18, who include modern day teens capable of balanced thinking and energetic action to safeguard democracy (refer Article 1). This proves beyond any doubt the utter inefficiency of the election system!!

A representative of people has to perform important functions of governance. It is naive to expect that all voters have the capacity to recognize and elect persons who can perform these functions efficiently. This expectation is a grave fundamental lapse of the election system. To overcome this to some extent, it is essential that people should be asked to select only from a list of candidates who have the requisite qualifications and experience. Though essential for good governance, the Constitution could not lay down requisite qualifications because of shortage of such candidates more than 65 years back. But the fact is that voters have still not been provided an opportunity to elect suitable representatives by taking steps to remove this shortage of candidates with the requisite qualifications and experience. Sad to say, such steps have not even been thought of during a long period of more than 65 years because of a hardened laissez faire attitude. As a result, people are often electing not only persons without adequate qualifications and experience required for good governance but also anti-social persons. As many as 30 MPs elected in 2009 and 127 MLAs have themselves declared in their affidavits to the Election Commission that they have been involved in electoral malpractices. These include corrupt ways to win votes, threatening voters, tampering of electronic voting machines and preventing voters from exercising their franchise (DNA dated 22-1-13, page 9). The Association for Democratic Reforms, which examined the sworn affidavits of a total of 4,827 MPs elected in 2009 and MLAs, found that “14 per cent had declared serious criminal charges against themselves” (The Hindu dated 26-09-13). A study by Association of Democratic Rights has shown that “money, muscle and criminal background are sure-fire qualifications to ensure a victory in the elections” (DNA dated 30-07-13). All these confirm a dismal picture of the election system.

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court (SC) in 2005 stating that Sections 8, 9 and 11A of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 (RPA) allows convicts to be legislators even though these violate Articles 84, 173 and 326 of the Constitution which had expressly put a bar on criminals getting registered as voters or becoming MPs / MLAs.  SC had then issued a notice to the Attorney General on the petition. After a long lapse of seven years (i.e., in 2012) SC woke up and agreed to examine this important petition and in July 2013 (a year later) it struck down article 8(4) which had protected elected representatives with criminal background from disqualification, despite conviction, if they filed an appeal within three months. This order had only prospective effect. Thus, SC has allowed convicted legislators to continue till a High Court takes a decision about their disqualification, which may take years. The High Court decision can even be distorted because witnesses may be afraid to depose freely against such powerful persons with criminal background.  What is most damaging is that as many as 162 Lok Sabha members and 1,268 MLAs who have declared criminal records can continue to function (DNA dated 12-07-13). According to newspaper reports, SC has not bothered to order quick disposal of their cases. Neither has it allowed disqualification when the High court takes a prima facie decision that the charges are sustainable, in view of long delays in final disposal. Moreover, the judgment seems to be silent about (a) preventing criminals from registering as voters, as required under the Constitution and (b) other subsections of Section 8 and Sections 9 and 11A mentioned in the original petition. It is not clear whether these provide loopholes which can be exploited for non-application of the new section 8(4). All these clearly show that (1) representatives with criminal records are continuing and (2) neither SC nor Government is sincere about quickly removing such perverted representation of people even though it is forbidden by the Constitution.

All these prove the utter inefficiency of the election system. Should we continue to be hoodwinked by this system and hide it under the carpet or should we seriously consider an alternative system for having true representatives of the people? This aspect will be further explored in later articles.

Such grossly inadequate and perverted representation of people is the second obstacle which results in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

If the changes in the system suggested in Article 1 are implemented, those who are not interested in voting do not need a representative and will be excluded from the denominator for calculating representativeness. Because voting will be considered as a responsibility of the remaining confirmed eligibles and those not voting repeatedly will lose their eligibility, only very few among them will not vote. Those who mock at democracy repeatedly by selling their votes also will lose their eligibility and, therefore, will not pervert the election. These three situations will result in the elected person representing a very large proportion of those who are interested in having a representative.

One reason for the low proportion of votes for the winning candidate is that there is no limit to the number of persons who can compete in elections for any constituency. To ensure that the elected representative has majority votes conduct election in two stages. The two candidates who secure first and second positions in number of votes at the first stage only will become eligible for the second stage of voting. Winner of second stage will then have majority support. Though this two stage voting will increase the burden for conducting elections it will satisfy an important requirement of  a democracy. Further, one way to reduce this burden is suggested in a later Article.

To ensure that voters are asked to select only from a list of qualified persons, aspiring candidates should qualify themselves as graduates or post graduates in political science or social welfare, with a managerial component for which recognized colleges should start suitable courses. A reasonable time frame has to be given for acquiring these qualifications by sufficient number of persons. RPA has to be amended to ensure that, after a fixed date, only persons who have the requisite qualifications and experience will be eligible to become  peoples’ representatives because the important functions of enactment of laws and governance should not be left to  persons who do not have the required qualifications and experience.

NOTA should be considered as a clear expression of peoples’ rejection of all candidates when none are suitable. Fresh election, in which the rejected candidates cannot take part, should be held if NOTA option is used by large number of voters. This assurance will lead to elimination or at least reduction of the number of criminals and unqualified persons getting elected as representatives.

Amendment of the Constitution will be necessary to introduce these changes in the system

Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and other suggestions to overcome this obstacle are welcome. Please send these to I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the reformed system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the reformed system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.

You can help to save our sinking democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative solutions to save our sinking democracy.