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Our Political Process Depicts Ideological Decadence and a Declining Observance of Constitutional Morality - Vice President

New Delhi: December 18,2012

The Vice President of India, Shri M. Hamid Ansari said that we have to concede that the glass of democracy remains half full. We have practiced electoral democracy mechanically without making it fully representative. Our electoral procedures and practices have accentuated rather than diminish social cleavages. We have yet to succeed in eradicating electoral malpractices. We have allowed money power in all its manifestations to distort electoral outcomes. Our political process depicts ideological decadence and a declining observance of constitutional morality. Our society exhibits a disturbing disregard for moral order and public conscience and, in the words of an eminent academic, “the lines between legality and illegality, order and disorder, state and criminality, have come to be increasingly porous.” Are we on a slippery slope? There is, clearly an imperative need for rejuvenating our commitment to the values, objectives and the judicious balance of the Constitution.

He opined that the electoral methodology adopted and practiced by us is the single member plurality system, otherwise known as the First-Past-the Post (FPTP) system. The traditional arguments in its favour are that (a) it tends to provide a clear-cut contest between two or more major parties (b) its working is easy for voters to understand (c) it allows individuals who are not members of a political party to run as independents (d) it tends to produce stable governments and (e) it is likely to produce a strong opposition party. Delivering Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture on “Some Questions on Elections, Representation and Democracy” organized by Dr. Ambedkar Foundation here yesterday, he expressed his concern that despite the above, the system is not universal and critics have commented on its limitations. These relate to the (i) disconnect between the vote share and the number of seats won (ii) propensity to over-reward major parties and under-reward smaller parties (iii) likelihood of smaller parties with strong regional base getting a “seat bonus” and winning more seats than their corresponding share of the popular vote.

The Vice President said that a majority of elected members of the Lok Sabha in recent years, and even earlier, won on a minority of votes cast in their constituencies. This is compounded by the absence, in our system, of compulsory voting. Thus if a candidate is elected on 30 percent of the votes cast and if the percentage of polling is the constituency is 60, then the positive mandate secured by the candidate is 30 percent of 60 percent, that is, just 18 percent of the total electorate. Such an outcome has a distorting impact on the composition of the elected legislature. This is vividly demonstrated by the vote-share seat-won data relating to all the fifteen Lok Sabhas. The situation is no better, perhaps worse, in State assembly elections with percentage of returned candidates on minority of votes cast going above 70 percent in several cases.

The Vice President said that what are the ramifications of such an outcome? Observers have noted that it induces candidates to focus on securing votes of a segment of the electorate and thereby induce, accentuate or reinforce social divisions based on caste, creed, faith or language. For this purpose, and despite formal legal or regulatory constrains, candidates or their supporters do succeed in invoking narrower loyalties to further electoral appeal. The excluded or marginalised social groups “then indulge in strategic voting.” Divisive tendencies and social conflict is necessarily the end product.

Shri Ansari said that the basic premise, and requirement, in a democratic election is to ascertain through the ballot the wish of the majority of voters in the constituency concerned. It cannot therefore be argued that the First-Past-the-Post system now in vogue, whatever may have been the compulsions for adopting it, is theoretically valid or practically the most desirable. As a mature democracy, and one in which correctives in the electoral procedures continues to be work in progress, there is a need to debate the representative-ness of the representative regardless of political convenience or administrative constraints. This fundamental corrective in the electoral system can and must be added to other electoral reforms proposed by the Election Commission of India and others and are under consideration of the of the Government, as indicated in the reply given by the Government in Parliament recently. There is also a strong case for accelerating the process.


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