Indian Elections are considered the biggest voting event and the largest democratic process in the world. More than 800 million people visit polling booths over a period of 6 weeks to elect a new government. While we are so good at organizing elections smoothly, it’s what happens before and after the voting process that requires immediate reform. Here are four areas where election processes need to be reformed ASAP.
1. A transition from FPTP to PR
When it comes to counting votes and instating parties, India uses the First Past The Post (FPTP) system. In this system, any candidate who receives the highest number of votes forms the government. For example, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP formed the government with 31% votes. This means that 69% of the voters did not choose BJP as the ruling party. Despite this the Modi govt. came to power with 282 out of 543 seats in the LS, as all other parties individually received fewer votes.
This system was adopted in India during the drafting of the constitution in 1950 and since then there has rarely been any incentive for reform. This is because; the Indian National Congress (INC) continually received 40-50% of the votes in successive elections after independence.
However, in recent times, there has been increasing demand to replace FTPT with Proportion Representation (PR) in India. In PR, contesting parties are allocated seats in the LS in proportion to the votes received. For example, with 31% of the votes, BJP should have won only 168 seats in the LS (31% of 543).
This spells a more democratic way of conducting elections as opposed to FPTP. For example, Mayawati won 20% of the Uttar Pradesh vote share, but it translated into a mere handful of seats. BJP, on the other hand, won 40% of the vote share and 75% of the seats.
PR has been adopted in several countries including Denmark, Greece, Italy, Israel, Finland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. This system is especially effective in two-party elections wherein it is easier to divide seats between two primary parties. However, in India, where a multi-party system exists, enforcing PR is slightly more complicated. States like UP have up to 20 parties during the assembly elections. Allocating seats to multiple parties will create a lot of clash of ideas and make it difficult to conduct sessions in the Lok Sabha, Moreover, with partisan politics playing a role, it will take longer to pass bills in the LS.
Thus, a system highly proposed and appreciated by political analysts, may still be a complicated affair in India.
2. Organising Simultaneous Elections
General elections in India are conducted over a period of 6-8 weeks to ensure organised voting across different states. While this is a more cost-effective method, it also allows candidates to contest elections from more than one constituency where voting schedules are weeks apart. Under section 33 of the Representation of People Act, 1951, a person is allowed to contest polls from a maximum of two seats. Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav have both done so in the past. However, the Election Commission has further mandated under Section 70 that the said candidate must forfeit one of the seats within 10 days, thus laying the ground for by-elections.
The only problem with this system is that it gives parties more chances to win elections, and bring a corrupt candidate to power.
3. Giving HNIs less power
In many cases, parties elect high net individuals (HNIs) to represent them in certain constituencies. HNIs have more power as candidates are able to influence electorate opinion. This facility hampers the process of democracy that states any citizen of India can contest elections. It takes away power from middle-class/common people, as they don’t possess enough money to divulge opinions.
Arvind Kejriwal raised this issue during the 2014 election campaign suggesting a check on the assets of candidates. Such reform should be mandated during every election, general or assembly, to ensure that HNIs do not push the ‘common-man’ candidates to the background.
4. A ban on cash donations
Private institutions should be banned from making donations to election campaigns. This mandate should also be fairly executed by the ECI running regular checks on parties’ assets and balance sheets. Such reform will prevent private companies’ hidden agendas from interfering in politics. For example, it has been repeatedly implied by various analysts that BJP’s campaign in 2014 was sponsored by Reliance Industries and other big corporations, in return for business benefits, in the period that followed.
To make matters worse, funding elections is also a popular tool for major companies to dispose black money. This is because the ECI mandated spending limit on election campaigns is Rs. 70lakhs, but parties inevitably end up spending crores in their campaigns. In fact, a 2015 report suggested that BJP spent over $100million to win the elections. This inflow of money either comes from HNIs or corporations with vested interests in certain parties.
5. Introducing a Two-party system
India follows a multi-party system. States like Haryana have up to 23 parties during assembly elections, leading to too many choices and diverse prejudices. In a Proportional Representation, it will be too difficult to fairly allocate power to each party and maintain a unified vision for the state.
On the other hand, a two party system will facilitate the idea of PR and allow for a strong ruling and opposition party in the lower house. Former President, APJ Abdul Kalam, known for his unorthodox ideas had proposed a two-party system in India in 2007. According to him, multi-party elections enabled divide and rule, allowing several parties with micro-agendas to come to power. His idea was to have potential and willing candidates to align themselves with either of the two primary parties.
The two-party system is nearly impossible to enforce in India today. It will require dissolution of prevailing parties, thus creating a ruckus in states where these parties have a strong-hold. For example, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, All India Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and Shiv Sena in Maharshtra individually have more influence in their respective states than the BJP.
Election reform in India is a long debated and awaited phenomenon.