Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Elections in India ... need for reform

Its been a very long time since my last post, and a lot has happened since ... the latest development has been the reelection of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister in India. I have been motivated to write this post after reading Niket's post on the election. I started writing a comment on his blog, and at some point it became too big for a comment, and decided to post it on my own blog instead. Here it comes ...
A concern I have had with the Indian parliamentary process: the lack of a 'run-off' to see who really has the mandate. Nearly every constituency has tens of candidates contesting the election. And in a large number of them, the majority of the votes are split between 3-4 major candidates. So we often have the winning candidate getting say 29% of the votes cast. Is that really a mandate?

I wonder what % of the votes cast went to the UPA coalition - I am sure it's well below the 50% of the seats that they actually hold in Parliament. Definitely not the people's vote, is it?

In many Presidential systems around the world, there is a runoff if no one gets an outright majority - heck, we even have runoffs for elections to positions in business school. But in a parliamentary system, how does one achieve a runoff? The system was inherited from Britain where its primarily a 2-party game, and worked in India for so many years where there was just one dominant party. But would it work in today's fragmented political environment, the present setup just doesn't seem right. An example of that is the elections in Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena has always been dominant, especially more so in Mumbai. But this time, the Congress swept it all - did they have a clear win? No, I think not (again I would have loved to make this argument with numbers to back me up, any help would be appreciated). Raj Thackrey's MNS was clearly able to get a significant chunk of the Shiv Sena's votes, allowing the Congress to take advantage of the situation. This was clearly a situation where a runoff would have helped the Shiv Sena not lose this battle, and yet allow the people to determine a clear victor - also eliminate some of the 'king making' opportunism that we see from the regional parties these days.

Its hard enough holding direct elections and counts for 400 million voters, but to do a runoff? Almost surely out of the question. Perhaps an electoral college type of setup? They use that for Presidential elections in India anyway. Not sure what a practical solution would look like! Any suggestions?