“We fought for social justice. We fought for economic justice… Now we must fight for electoral justice’ – Barbara Boxer
A free and fair election is the cardinal principle of the effectiveness of a democratic system. Any bottleneck or obstacle to such a concept and its actualization is not only anathema but vitiates the system and its process to make the principle of government by the people a sham or a fiasco. Election is defined as a formal group decision-making process by which people choose their representatives and which forms the edifice of a democratic configuration. The word election is derived from the Latin word ‘e’ meaning out and ‘Lectus’ meaning chosen. The election, to truly manifest or reflect the will of the people, must be free and fair and therefore this electoral dynamic has gained prominence as it has generated many scathing diatribes regarding its actual implementation. .
The reasons why electoral reforms are gaining importance is that the role and operation of electoral and behavioral dynamics (and anathema things/situations affecting and turning the electoral process into a fiasco) have shown aberrations not only smear the mud inefficiency on the functioning of democracies, but also renders outrageous and condescending the new (ideal) concept of election/democracy. The conceptual definition of democracy in Lincoln’s expression “of the people, by the people and for the people” appears as a semantic facade. Although this is a gargantuan and colossal effort to reform the process with around 27.5% of the population living in harsh conditions of poverty and impecuniosity and languishing under the spell of illiteracy, it is time to tear down and chip away at the concept of good governance. Electoral reforms generally contribute to better citizen participation in electoral practices while reducing the role of corruption and enriching and energizing the functioning of democracy (in India).
A country plagued by a plethora of diversity and its unpleasant manifestations regarding religion, caste, language, customs and beliefs, the gap between rich and poor and various cognitive perceptions, etc., becomes a Herculean task to to fix. But we have a Hobson’s choice in hand. The sooner we embrace change to transform/reform the electoral system, the better for the nation. The first and most important factor that makes the electoral process a sham is the negative role of the power of money. Not ideas, not principles, but money, which reigns supreme in politics. As described earlier, in a nation where about a third of the population lives below the poverty line (the literacy rate is also low), this money plays the obnoxious (ugly) role of exploiting the conditions of plight of the people and human weaknesses and the spirit of democracy is lost in the quagmire of monetary significance. Buying votes by taking into account the poverty of the people not only hinders the future of the nation but also stigmatizes democratic novelties and ideals. Although the Electoral Commission has set spending limits for MP and MP elections, the money’s clandestine role in buying/wooing voters belies any legal implications. Poverty stricken people sell their ballots and unscrupulous politicians wielding the power of money power rule unethically.
The other important aspect that suffers and affects the electoral process is the criminalization of politics. Although one may disagree with Plato regarding concepts such as philosopher kings, it is desirable that the ruler/representative of the people be honest, sincere and just, devoid of any criminality. The criminalization of politics has really affected the election process and the mode of governance. The criminal elements procure vote/mandate by threat/fear psychosis and the occurrence of violence makes a mockery of the system. The entry of criminal elements into parliament and state legislatures paralyzes and makes justice – social, economic and political – a distant chimera. In recent years, the influence of criminals in political affairs has increased considerably. In Anukul Chandra Pradhan v India Union 1997, the Honorable Supreme Court observed that the criminalization of politics is the scourge of society and the negation of democracy. It is subversive of a free and fair election. The criminalization of politics has other manifestations like booth capture, intimidation of voters, obtaining votes by intimidation, falsification of voter lists, large scale rigging and large scale post election violence targeting people for not voting for the criminal elements.
Other important factors affecting electoral dynamics are dividing factors such as religion, caste, language, customs and beliefs. Multifaceted diversities play an important role in an already divided society. Yet some parts of our country are dominated by the caste factor, and it plays a predominant role in deciding who would rule taking into account the herd mentality of the people. The distortion of perception affects the concept of a free and fair process making democracy a fiasco.
Other factors that affect the electoral process can be cited as a lack of moral values among the candidates, a Machiavellian approach to the election to win anyway with ungodly alliances and deep-rooted conspiracies that eat away at the spirits of democracy . The other most worrying factor affecting the democratic process concerns the defection of members after the elections. To fight for a party before or during elections and to change positions and sides after obtaining the people’s mandate is not only heinous but also deplorable by any standard assessment.
(This is part one of the series on electoral reform. Opinions expressed are personal.)