India channels American Progressive Era

Indian ballot paper. Photo from Electoral System Design: The New International IDEA Handbook.

Via the Times of India, hunger-strike activist Anna Hazare, fresh of his victory advocating for anti-corruption measures, will now begin to push for electoral reform in India.  Hazare’s new idea is to introduce recall elections, which he hopes will provide another check on corrupt elected officials.

I’m generally not a fan of recall elections and it seems somewhat redundant to have them in a parliamentary system.  However, I believe the last two governments have lasted the full five-year terms, so maybe this isn’t such a bad idea.   I also wonder if India’s parliamentary system will make recalls more effective (versus those in presidential systems) as the less stable nature of parliamentary majorities will give parties  greater incentive to punish corrupt politicians.  This is because every recall election comes closer to directly threatening the jobs of every MP in the same alliance, as it would bring them closer to snap elections.  In contrast, a US member of Congress gets to keep their job till the next scheduled election, regardless of who’s in charge.

If you can get through the endless pop-up ads in the link, the article does have a nice summary of other electoral reforms that have support, but will probably go nowhere.

EC had proposed that in the ballot paper or on the ballot unit of the Electronic Voting Machine, there should be a column “none of the above” after the name of the last candidate. EC had said it would enable a voter to reject all candidates, if he chooses so. The proposal does not even require a big legislative intervention. All that is needed is an amendment to rules 22 and 49B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.

…Bhushan was equally excited about building a system of referendum for important policy issues and legislations. “It is wrong to say people do not understand these issues. There could have been referendum for an issue like Indo-US nuclear deal. An elected representative is not representative for everything and does not understand all issues,” Bhushan said. He also said use of money power in elections was a big menace and needed to be made integral to electoral reforms.

Recalls and referendums. Direct democracy reminds me a lot of American Progressive demands during the turn of the last century.  While some of those reforms did bring more accountability (direct elections of senators), I’m not as convinced direct democracy has done the same.  Organized interests will find ways to influence the process, whether it be through an MP or direct plebiscite.

With that being said, it is inspiring to see India’ s success as a democracy and I hope they have the best of luck pushing for these reforms.

Posted on August 29, 2011, in Elections, Electoral Systems and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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