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Postmodern Democracy and Governance

A Case for Proportionate Electoral System


(Paper Presented at the All India Progressive Forum) Paper by M C Raj

Trajectories of Democracy The way democracy has grown through Enlightenment and modern period needs to be carefully explored. It was a transition from feudalism. However, it was a heady mixture of individualism, liberalism slowly leading to the emergence of capitalism and eventually to postmodern forms of Globalization. The guiding spirit of this transition to democracy was the drive to move into different continents, occupy nations, establish their rule and loot the wealth of the nations. That conversion to Christianity was used for this political and economic agenda completed a full cycle of systems and structures. Modern and Postmodern democracy Modern democracy is largely stamped with the authority of dominant nations of the world that have managed to amass worlds resources in their respective countries. Interpretations of democracy and establishments of Instruments and mechanisms of democratic governance are also largely determined by such dominant nations of the world. The agenda of colonization has received a make-up in the name of democracy. Blind subscription to this form of democracy has unfortunately led to the use of weapons of mass destruction, destruction of sovereignty of nations, murders of legitimate leaders etc. Democracy at gun point has arrived in the postmodern era as an unassailable doctrine of governance. Nationalist Discourses and Nation Building India has a history of a painful emergence of multiple nationalisms. All conflicting endeavors at forging nationalism can be classified into cultural nationalism and political nationalism. Right from the time of the British efforts at communal representation in the 1930s one can see consolidation of these two strong trends in Indian nationalism though already in 1906 the Hindutva cultural nationalism started protruding its head. Dr. Ambedkars defeat at the hands of Gandhi in his claim for political representation to Dalits and Mohammad Ali 1

Jinnas successful claim for a separate nation are two inevitable casualty and development in the birth pangs of a nation. Nation building can be viewed from two dimensions. 1) Every nation likes to build itself strong and stable so that any threat from outside of its boundaries can be effectively resisted. Nation states give priority to defense preparedness and allocate budget that are disproportionate to the legitimate development of its people. Securing the borders of nation states gain precedence over securing the livelihood of citizens and communities of people who live within its borders. Nation states also promote and propagate discourses of national threats in order to legitimize their disproportionate distribution of resources to defense preparedness. 2) Considerable energy and resources are also distributed to establish instruments and mechanisms of governance within the nation state borders. Postmodern nation states have attached priority to democratic governance as a means of consolidating endeavors towards nation building. Since postmodern democracy has evolved through a capitalist formation of nation states it is primarily designed to the best advantage of dominant groups in different countries. Such dominant groups have an avowed purpose of accumulating and amassing profit as well as establishing their political hegemony over citizens who depend on labor economy. Democratic dissent of such mechanisms of exploitation are resented and put down through the same mechanisms that are used to protect the boundaries of nation state from supposed enemy aggression. Democracy - Peoples Power Electoral Systems Democracy means power of the people. In indigenous communities that have generally practiced direct democracy the power of the people has been real to a large extent. However, direct democracy is an impossible proposition in the postmodern nation state governance. Laudable efforts to integrate possible mechanisms of direct democracy are being made in a few countries. At the discursive levels there are colonial democracy, substantive democracy, procedural democracy, Consociational democracy, deliberative democracy, dialectic democracy etc. At the pragmatic levels representative democracy, inclusive democracy and participatory democracy have replaced direct democracy. Every citizen must know whether democracy and governance in his/her country are based on inclusive representation or on illusions of inclusion. In asymmetrical and multicultural societies the possibility to tilt democracy towards the more powerful and camouflage it as peoples power is natural and there needs to be extra caution to be more inclusive mechanisms in such countries. More and more countries have started taking recourse to redesigning

the path for participation of citizens in Instruments and Mechanisms of governance. This is because they begin to read the writing on the wall clearly that internal stability through democratic governance is much more important than protecting the nation state borders. Both as an inevitable truth of governance and as a genuine concern for democratic possibilities, some nations have ushered in meaningful governance by enhancing representation of citizens. In the trajectory of even in such genuine efforts, the transition of the individual into citizen, of the citizen into voter, and of the voter into tax-payer has been well entrenched. Let us remember that electoral system is the political institution that can easily be manipulated. Electoral System - Types There are two major types of electoral systems designed scientifically to fit into these two trajectories. One is the First Past The Post system and the other is the Proportional Representation system. There is a need to evaluate the merits and demerits of both placing them in the context of democracy that is in practice in countries. In doing an objective evaluation one need not enter into a judgmental mode of placing one over the other as being better than the other. More homogenous societies with only two parties will need the FPTP electoral system. Multi-cultural societies with also coalition politics will need the Proportionate electoral system. The Transition Countries with more deliberative, dialectic and participatory democracy have gradually shifted from FPTP to PR systems. Today about 84 countries have adopted one or other form of PR system. Even in UK, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales use PR system. India uses a form of PR system in its election to the Rajya Sabha. About 60 countries still use FPTP system. These are mostly countries colonized by England and who still follow the British system in their electoral system. Four Major Categories Electoral Systems have four major categories. 1. 2. 3. 4. Majoritarian Electoral System Semi Proportional System Mixed Proportional System Proportionate Electoral System

First Past The Post (FPTP) Also known as plurality majority system or the winner takes it all system. US, UK, Canada, India, a dozen Latin American countries and 18 African countries, mostly former British colonies use this. Out of 211 countries about 60 countries use MES. It is a convenient electoral system that generally matches the designs of colonial democracy. Colonial democracy is one that is designed to govern a nation by power concentrated in the hands of one or a few powerful groups in a country. Mechanisms are established in such democracies to create an impression that all communities are included but in effect such communities are virtually colonized. Such communities will be accommodated only when it becomes inevitable. E.g. reserved seats. Advantages of FPTP 1. Provides clear choice between two parties 2. Gives rise to single party governments. Coalitions are only exception. 3. Gives rise to coherent opposition in parliament 4. Compels political parties to be broad based in multicultural societies. 5. Gives rise to parliament of geographical representatives 6. Allows voters to choose among individuals and not just parties 7. Gives chance to popular independent candidates 8. Simple to understand and use Disadvantages of FPTP 1. Excludes minority parties from fair representation 2. Excludes minorities from being represented 3. Excludes women from being represented 4. Encourages parties based on clan, ethnicity or religion 5. Exaggerates regional 'fiefdom' where one party wins all seats in a state or region 6. Leans on a large number of wasted votes 7. Unresponsive to changes in public opinion 8. Open to manipulations of gerrymandering Majoritarian systems give a distinct advantage to those parties that have established organizational support bases and these are in many cases the heirs of authoritarian rulers. Proportionate Electoral System General Characteristics 1. Percentage of seats must be the same as Percentage of votes 2. Multimember Constituencies 3. Election are generally by Party List system 4

4. Inclusion of minorities, excluded people and marginalized communities guaranteed. 5. Goes well with coalition politics 6. Well suited for multi-cultural societies 7. Generally no wastage of votes 8. Allows variants to suit the needs of different countries Advantages of PR System 1. Faithfully translates votes into seats 2. Very few wasted votes 3. Facilitates minority parties' access to representation 4. Encourages parties to present inclusive and socially diverse lists 5. Makes it more likely that women are elected 6. Restricts the growth of regional fiefdoms, dynastic/family rule, one leader parties etc. Because PR systems reward minority parties with minority seats, they are less likely to lead to situations where a single party holds all seats in a given province or district. 7. Leads to more efficient and stable government. This does not foreclose problems of stability completely. However, going by the experience of countries that have taken up to PR system this can be stated authoritatively. 8. Makes power sharing among parties and interest groups more visible. 9. Increases inner party democracy and reduces corruption, violence, communalism and hopefully casteism. Examples from other countries 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Germany (reservation) - 1949 New Zealand (separate electorate) -1993 Norway (separate parliament) Nepal The Netherlands

Indian Constituent Assembly Deliberations The effort for an inclusive democratic governance continued in the Independent India through many deliberations in the Constituent Assembly. Mahboob Ali Baig Sahib Bahadur and Kazi Syed Karimuddin are the two Muslim leaders who seethed for PR system. "One of the best safeguards for minority rights and interests is the 5

system of election by proportional representation with the STVwhich has already been adopted in a large number of countries. He quotes Lord Howard of Penrith who was the British representative of Berne, Stockholm, Madrid and Washington. "Two fundamental requirements of democracy, first that government should be an expression of the people's will and secondly that it should work both smoothly and stably and not be subject to frequent crises, seen to have been met more successfully by the Swiss system than by any other in the world. He concludes: "Therefore, this method if election represents the expression of the people's will and it will be more stable and responsible. My submission is that all the fears that some people might entertain that this method of election would involve the country in sections and it will go against the solidarity of the country are false. Some people who are really communally minded smell a rat in anything in regard to this kind of representation, that is unjustifiable. This is the most scientific and more democratic method of representing the people of a country in a democratic system of government." Kazi Syed Karimuddin "The common (FPTP) system of representation perpetuates the danger and the only remedy is proportional representation. That system is is also profoundly democratic for it increases the influence of thousands of those who would have no voice in the government and it brings men more near on equality by so contriving that no vote shall be wasted and that every vote shall contribute to bring into parliament a member of his own choice and opinion" "The present electoral system is really perverse" "Today we are faced with an electoral system in which there is no guarantee except the reservation of seats that has been embodied in article 292 and 293. By my amendment I plead that if proportional representation is guaranteed the reservation of seats even on religious grounds must go." "The system that I regard as the best is the system of PR. It is not based on religious grounds and it applies to all minorities." "In my opinion, where there is heterogenous population it is very necessary that we should have coalition governments. It will not be a bad thing that various representative elements should have to be consulted in forming a ministry" "The Congressmen are of the opinion that they are bound to sweep the polls and therefore, they support the draft constitution which establishes a majority rule, making no effective provision for the be

Edith of either communal or political minorities in the country. They are wrong and they would be found to be wrong." "That does not mean that I oppose the continuance of then present regime. I want the Congress to live longer because they give peace, tranquility and a secular state to all communities in India but this cannot be guaranteed unless the system of PR is introduced." National Law Commission The National Law Commission of India took cognaissance of the need for reforming Indias electoral system and making it more inclusive. The endeavor started in November 1995 when the Ministry Law, Justice and Company Affairs asked the Law Commission to look into the many pending election petitions. In August 1998 the Law Commission undertook a thorough review of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951. Between 14 November 1998 and 24 January 1999 it organized four national seminars to elicit public opinion on the same subject. The National Law Commission finally came out with a clear recommendation for a Proportionate Electoral System largely based on the German model but making it fit into Indian ground realities. With a view to rectifying and redressing the aforementioned distortions and inequities, the Law Commission was of the provisional opinion that introducing a List System may serve to redress the aforementioned distortions, at least to a partial extent. For this purpose, we looked to the electoral system obtaining in certain other countries including Germany where a mixed system (FPTP and list system) is in force. In Germany, part of the seats are filled on the basis of FPTP system where under the members are elected from territorial constituencies and the remaining members are chosen from the lists put forward by the political parties. We did not however think it advisable to import the German system whole-hog for it was found to be extremely complicated and difficult of operation in a country like ours where a sizeable chunk of population is illiterate and is not able to operate such a complicated electoral system. Accordingly, it was suggested that in the Lok Sabha as well as in the State Legislative Assemblies, the present strength should be increased by 25% of the existing strength which increased strength should be filled on the basis of list system. The list system was to be confined only to recognised political parties (RPP). There would be no separate vote, nor a separate election for the members to be chosen under the list system. Common Misgiving about PR

It is good for European countries. It is not good for India and it will not work in India. This argument originates from those who want to keep FPTP intact, as it is advantageous to their dominant designs. PR system has twenty variants and India can add one more that will suit her specific situation. This is the beauty of PR system that it is not rigid about anything. People and their representatives have to decide what type of representation is best for them. We do not borrow any countrys model blindly. We shall create a PR system that will be tailor made for India. PR will increase communalism and casteism, as it will give representation to each community according to the proportion of population. This is a wrong assumption. Proportionate representation is based on the matrix of votes and seats and not on the matrix of population. If communities want their community representation they have to form their parties or make their coalitions and come to the level playing fields in a win-win electoral politics. PR system creates this win-win situation through its multi-member electoral districts, party list system and inner party democracy. It is a very cumbersome process in India to change electoral system. We have change the constitution to do this. Any change in India is cumbersome, as we are multicultural society with a population of 1.3 billion people. However, India has brought about 76 constitutional amendments already and one more is for electoral reforms will be in tune with the spirit of the Constitution of India that is inclusive democracy. We also need to explore the possibility of bringing about this change without a constitutional amendment if the Constitution does not mention explicitly elections through FPTP system. Indian parliament can still rely on the spirit of the constitution if the letter does not stand against the spirit. There is a legitimate argument that independents cannot contest in PR. However, countries like New Zealand and Nepal have made necessary changes in their PR systems to also accommodate independent candidates. Latest Campaign in India - CERI The Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI) was launched in October 2008 after having seriously considered the nonrepresentative and non-participatory nature of the First Past The Post electoral system that is in vogue in India. A serious research was done on Proportionate Electoral System as practised in Germany. Subsequent to the launching of the Campaign CERI also did researches on the electoral systems of Norway, New Zealand, Nepal and the Netherlands in those countries. 1. The launching of the Campaign took place in Dhaka in an

International Conference in October 2008. In this launching Conference a Core Group of CERI was set up with volunteer State Coordinators from 15 States. 2. The International Conference was followed up by a National Conference in Delhi where interested people from different parts of India took part. Participants from Nepal along with their present Chief Election Commissioner placed a formal request to CERI to start a chapter of CERI in Nepal and also organize an International Conference in Kathmandu in view of the urgency for integrating the Proportionate Electoral System into the new Constitution of Nepal. 3. Subsequently sixteen State Conferences and innumerable District level Conferences have taken place all over India. 4. Many political parties and national bodies of Minorities have come forward in support of CERI. Mr. D. Raja one of the general secretaries of CPI raised the issue of Proportionate Electoral System in the Upper House of Indias Parliament and also took part in the Workshop of electoral systems experts in Berlin organized by CERI. 5. Many Intellectuals from North Eastern States have started openly saying that Proportionate Electoral System may be the only solution to the stalemate in democratic functioning in their region. Dr. Nara Singh, a former Minister in the government of Manipur has taken responsibility as Coordinator of CERI for the entire North East. 6. The Core Group of CERI has been meeting regularly at the Booshakthi Kendra and has planned out national programmes gradually also increasing its ownership level. It is a great measure of commitment that the original Coordinators of CERI still remain as Coordinators on a voluntary basis and new ones have joined for new States. Besides the Coordinators a lot of other eminent citizens, scholars and intellectuals have joined hands in all the States to promote PR system in India. 7. The Core Group of CERI spent three intensive days in discussions to prepare the Manifesto and also to develop gelling mechanisms to develop collective ownership of the Campaign. All are happy about the utter seriousness with which the Core Group worked and ended with a strategic plan for the future work of the Campaign. 8. The All India Milli Council of the Muslim community in India, the Republican Party of India, The Jan Lokshakthi, The Lok Satta party, The Indian Muslim League, the Vidudalai Chiruthaigal

Party etc. have pledged their support to the Campaign and are actively participating in the programmes of CERI in one way or other. Some members of the Parliament came together for a Conference organized jointly by CERI and the RPI in Delhi in the month of August 2011. 9. As of now the Campaign has stepped into 22 States of India with also a huge signature campaign for electoral reforms. The London School of Economics has come forward to do two researches in India on the need for PR system. 10. CERI has also successful organized a Workshop of Electoral System Experts of the world. This Workshop has come out with a Statement that is now being widely distributed in the country. There is every reason to believe that this Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India will be carried forward by all and sundry in the future and the tasks of CERI will be considerably reduced as we move along.

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