Half-yearly polls: the reform we need

Simultaneous elections to parliament and state legislatures are being canvassed on grounds of economy in their being thus conducted, and the possibly lessened disruption of normal government bureaucratic activities, including large-scale police deployment during the poll months. The belief that only strictly five-yearly elections will leave scope for government in its legislation and governance functions is the driving force, along with hopes for a less turbulent political/electoral atmosphere or preoccupation.

But democracy is a raucous, obstreperous and turbulent. Electoral reforms must instead be really focused on removing the role of money power and advantages to black-money operators; quid pro quos between vested interests and religious, caste and muscle power have to be fought against. And, we should move towards really continuously accountable governments and legislators and they should be periodically legitimised electorally and democratically.

A semblance of sanction has to be secured by political parties and their candidates to contest elections. Continuous debates in parliament and in public, including in the media, are an essential part of democracy and representative government. Election results are a practical political manifestation of these cogitations.

The tendency of governments and ruling parties to proffer pecuniary and other benefits to legislators, a frequent mix up of legislative and executive wings/functions and, on the other hand, the brandishing of threats of dissolution of the House have systemically jeopardised the independence of legislatures and elected representatives’ democratic control over governments — laying bare the misdemeanours, commissions and omissions of governments on a day-to-day basis. Elections are not a mere device to elect governments, but indeed a way of controlling them and providing continuous public feedback and sensitising all concerned to issues, a way of disapproving violence and jeopardy to peace and approving legitimate political behaviour.

For improved democratic functioning and for parliamentary supremacy over the government, exercised by people’s representatives, we have to secure a really independent parliament, one which is not threatened of dissolution by governments’ arbitrariness or caprice.

We should work towards a permanent parliament, with groups of its members being replaced by periodic elections, as is the system in the Rajya Sabha. The 543 members of the Lok Sabha must be made into groups of 50-55 each, spread over the entire country — in proportion to the size of each state. These groups must retire and be elected cyclically every half year.

After five years – or 10 half-years, all the members would have been replaced and the next cycle would commence. After the election of the prime minister from among the MPs, he would seek a confidence vote; or parliament could impel a constructive vote of confidence or no confidence.

The six-monthly polls would enable people to express their approval or disapproval regarding the policies and conduct of the incumbent government and its leadership and party. This parliament’s continuity would be reflected in the structure of various parliamentary committees, too. The change from the present system can be effected by replacing the senior-most members at any one time.

In such a system, the question of dissolving the House would not arise and MPs would be really independent of the government. Similar changes can be brought about regarding state assemblies, too.

Another equally important change is the method of fielding party candidates for elections to assembly and parliamentary constituencies. Primaries, party conclaves may be held in each constituency and its sub-regions to have candidates selected to be fielded in general elections.

Thus, the influence of undemocratic party oligarchies (high commands) and the influence of money bags and vested interests would get eliminated; casteism and communalism would get diminished progressively. The party structure will acquire a more substantive and credible role in the conduct of policy and various organisational matters, including democratic accountability. Indeed, it would be a real way of practising internal democracy in political parties.

Half-yearly elections, in their process entirety, would constitute a mirror to the conduct of parties, their leadership and the government. The values of democracy are constantly endangered by events engineered by political busybodies or adventurers through pressure tactics to compel governments to toe their line. On the other hand, vested interests cause turmoil in search of power and hegemony. All these political vested interests would be shown their place by these formally held six-monthly elections.

Such a system would ensure that national and local issues, development, social and political grievances all come to the fore and are electorally determined/considered. The country would get a constant dose of political education regarding national issues and priorities. Lying and false assurances would get decisively discouraged.

Importantly, the sense of complacency and self-assurance among the ruling group will go, democratic accountability will gain ground, the ideal of fair play and justice would be politically closer. That’s the reform we need, not simultaneous polls once in five years.

(The writer is former professor, Maharaja’s College, University of Mysore, Mysuru)

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