A Home page to achieve Electoral reforms, true democracy & citizens sovereignty in India
NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR ELECTORAL AND GOVERNANCE REFORMS
Public Education Campaign
"Lok Satta" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Tirumala Srinivas" <email@example.com>
Fri, 20 Jun 2003 18:02:39 +0530
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat” --------Sun Tzu
I have not communicated with friends and activists of the National Campaign for quite some time. Happily, this is a period of extraordinarily hectic activity, and very fruitful results. The recent developments on the governance and electoral reform front are among the most heartening for nearly 15 years. The purposes of this communication are to review these significant developments, put things in perspective, identify areas of action in the immediate future and medium term, and help generate purposive and vigorous citizen action. What I propose to do is give a larger strategic perspective to our tactics and activities.
The last few months have been most productive in terms of furthering the democratic reform agenda, and generating a serious debate. Not all changes are positive or flawless, but cumulatively they all certainly help improve the situation; illustrate the serious concern of political parties about the need to address the electoral and governance reform issues; and presage more fundamental, durable and far-reaching changes in the electoral system in coming years. Let me now outline a few of the recent developments briefly, and make a few remarks about their implications:
§ Criminal antecedents
§ Assets and liabilities
§ Educational qualifications
§ With the final judgment of the Supreme Court on March 13, disclosures are now mandatory and irreversible.
§ The Election Commission has issued a revised notification removing the power of Returning Officers rejecting nominations on grounds of false information.
If civil society groups publicize information and bring pressure on the political parties with media support, candidate choice will improve in the long-term. Lok Satta’s experience shows that major parties will refrain from nominating new candidates with criminal record, provided people’s movements are strong enough to make candidate choice a key issue.
This is by far the most significant change proposed in our electoral process. Lok Satta, CSDS and Lok Niti have been advocating funding reform and direct state funding in elections. The May-June 2001 issue of Lok Satta Times examined the issue of political funding and detailed proposals have been put forward for reform. Presentations were made to ministers, leaders of opposition and key officials. Except for public funding, most of the key provisions proposed by civil society groups find place in the Bill introduced first in Lok Sabha on 19th March 2002, and the revised Bill introduced in Parliament on 13 May 2003, after incorporating changes recommended by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs.
§ Full tax exemption to individuals and corporates on all contributions to political parties.
§ Effective repeal of Explanation 1 under Section 77 of The Representation of the People Act 1951 – expenditure by third parties and political parties will now come under ceiling limits. Only travel expenditure of leaders of parties is exempt.
§ Disclosure of party finances and contributions over Rs 20,000
§ Indirect public funding to candidates of recognized political parties – including free supply of electoral rolls (already in vogue), and such items by the Election Commission as are decided in consultation with the Union government.
§ Equitable sharing of time by the recognized political parties on the cable television network and other electronic media (public and private).
The Bill had been vetted by the Parliamentary Committee and the revised Bill was introduced in Parliament. The Bill enjoys bipartisan support, particularly from Congress and BJP.
§ It will help bring funding into the open.
§ It will help raise resources for legitimate campaign expenditure.
§ The free airtime in private and public electronic media will radically transform the nature of election campaign in the medium and long term, and will cut costs.
§ No penalties for donor for non-disclosure of funding.
§ Auditing by a chartered accountant from a panel approved by CAG has been deleted (from the earlier draft)
§ No direct public funding to candidates or parties.
3. Changes in Rajya Sabha Election (Amendments to RP Act):
§ Eligibility to contest for Rajya Sabha from any state
§ Open voting by MLAs
§ Approved by both Houses of Parliament
§ President’s assent due any time
§ Helps parties get competent persons elected to Parliament
§ Minimizes vote buying in Rajya Sabha
§ Dilutes the representation of states in Rajya Sabha which is meant to be the Council of States
§ It is a knee jerk response to a real problem parties face viz: inability to ensure election of competent and honest persons to legislatures. But it does not address the fundamental problems of the electoral system.
§ Does not provide for democratic choice of candidates by parties
4. Amendments to the Tenth Schedule (Anti-defection law changes):
§ Disqualification of all members who defy a party whip, irrespective of whether they constitute one-third or more
§ Defecting members cannot be ministers until reelection or expiry of normal term
§ The amendment Bill has been introduced in Parliament
§ Collective defections by inducement will be prevented
§ Governments will be more stable
§ Whip applicable not only when the government’s survival is affected, but for all voting
§ Party bosses will be all-powerful
§ Members cannot stop bad laws or decisions. eg: Muslim Women’s Bill, Ramaswamy impeachment
5. Limiting the size of Council of Ministers
§ The total number of ministers in the Council of Ministers at the union and state level cannot exceed 10 % of the strength of the House(s)
§ The Constitution (Ninety-Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2003 has been introduced in Parliament
§ Smaller Cabinets
§ More cohesive governance
§ Reduces waste
§ Does not address the basic question – i.e. sharing of spoils for survival of government
§ Cannot prevent other forms of patronage – corporations, offices with cabinet rank etc.
§ Does not prevent legislators functioning as disguised executives
6. Post Office as nodal agency for voter registration:
§ About 15 % of rural electoral rolls are defective
§ Upto 40 % of urban rolls are defective
§ Upto 15 % fraudulent vote in urban areas
§ Voter registration inaccessible to people
Solution: Post office as nodal agency
§ Display of rolls
§ Sale of rolls of local polling stations
§ Sale of statutory forms
§ Receipt and verification of applications for additions, deletions and changes for a fee (if EC accepts the procedure)
§ Registration and changes at post offices with provision for appeal (if EC accepts and rules are amended)
§ Assistance to the Election Commission during revision of rolls by verifying addresses etc. (if EC seeks it)
§ The issue has been pending for over 2 years
§ Now Election Commission and Postal department agreed to involve post offices in phases
§ Limited changes expected by end of 2003
§ Actual registration at post office involves change in rules
7. Right to Information Law:
§ Provides for right to information to citizens
§ Union law enacted, but rules not framed, and law has not been notified
§ Several states enacted laws of varying quality; but in general they have not been effectively implemented
§ Transparency and greater accountability
§ Loose time frame (30 days)
§ No penalties for non-compliance
§ Some improvements possible through rules at national and state levels – as this is an enabling law giving effect to a fundamental right under Article 19
8. National Judicial Commission:
§ Appointment of higher judiciary by a five-member body – 3 judges of Supreme Court, Law Minister, and Prime Minister’s nominee
§ The Commission to have a say in removal of judges
§ Bill amending constitution introduced in Parliament
§ Better appointment of judges
§ Greater accountability of judiciary
§ Restoration of balance between judiciary and executive
§ Opposition should have been represented
§ Executive and opposition should have a majority
§ Does not address the issue of competence of judges
§ Does not go far enough to enforce accountability
While some of the reforms proposed could be improved, it is clear that the flurry of legislative and executive action indicates a broad awareness that status quo cannot be sustained forever. This awareness and the cumulative impact of these changes will lead to major systemic reform.
We should also take note of two difficulties faced by the parties and Parliament, which illustrate the difficulties with status quo, and presage fundamental changes. First, reservation of legislative offices for women is facing rough weather, and introduction of the Bill has been stalled once again. While a search for an alternative model is on, the difficulties encountered so far clearly demonstrate to parties and the public that our first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system cannot ensure fair representation to all sections. Second, the difficulties encountered in delimitation of constituencies again exposes the inadequacies of FPTP system. Therefore the Eighty-fourth Amendment enacted in 2001 had to be replaced by the ninety-sixth Amendment in May, 2003. But the respite is temporary, because the real problems of delimitation of constituency boundaries and allocation of reserved seats to the satisfaction of all remain unaddressed. In addition, the changes in Rajya Sabha election requirements are an admission by parties that they are no longer confident of getting honest and competent persons elected to Lok Sabha in the present FPTP system; nor are they sure that their own party legislators will vote for their candidates.
As can be seen, these recent developments give us a sense of rapid change, and offer us hope that our governance system is on the verge of major transformation. Some of the changes on the anvil, for instance, the political funding reform, are potentially far-reaching, and would be regarded as revolutionary in any democracy. But given the complexity of our crisis, such reforms are significant milestones in our evolution, but do not really change the nature of our troubled politics.
Allow me to briefly state the nature of the crisis, so that we can focus on the next steps with clarity and resolve.
Distortions of power:
The distortions of our political process have significantly eroded the state’s capacity for good governance. First, the positive power to promote public good has been severely restricted; while the negative power of undermining public interest is largely unchecked. Authority is delinked from accountability at most levels, and in respect of most functions. As a result most state functionaries have realistic and plausible alibis for non-performance. Second, while the electoral system has demonstrated great propensity to change governments and politicians in power, the rules of the game remain largely unchanged. Increasingly, honesty and survival in political office are incompatible. Third, all organs of state are affected by the malaise of governance. Political executive, legislators, bureaucracy and judiciary – no class of functionaries can escape blame. For instance, 25 million cases are pending in courts, and justice is inaccessible, painfully slow and costly. Fourth, at the citizen’s level there are no sufficient incentives for better behaviour. Good behaviour is not rewarded sufficiently and consistently, and bad behaviour is not only not punished consistently; it is in fact rewarded extravagantly. As a result, deviant and socially debilitating behaviour has become prevalent, and short-term individual interest has gained precedence over public good.
Six interlocking vicious cycles:
In a well-functioning democracy, the political process ought to find answers to governance problems. Every election holds a promise for peaceful change. People in India have been voting for change time and again. But the political process is locked into a vicious cycle, and has become a part of the problem. There are six factors complicating the political process, perpetuating status quo. First, election expenditures are large, unaccounted and mostly illegitimate. For instance, expenditure limit for assembly elections in most states is Rs 600,000. In reality average expenditure in most states is several multiples of it, sometimes exceeding Rs 10 million. Most of this expenditure is incurred to buy votes, bribe officials and hire musclemen. Such large, unaccounted expenditure can be sustained only if the system is abused to enable multiple returns on investment. Rent seeking behaviour is therefore endemic to the system. Most of this corruption is in the form of control of transfers and postings, which in turn sustains a system of retail corruption for a variety of routine services, regulatory functions and direct transfer of resources through government programmes. Large leakages in public expenditure, and collusion in contracts and procurement are extremely common. The economic decision-making power of the state is on the wane as part of the reform process. But as the demand for illegitimate political funds is not reduced, corruption is shifting to the core areas of state functioning, like crime investigation. Robert Wade studied this phenomenon of corruption, and described the dangerously stable equilibrium which operates in Indian governance. This vicious chain of corruption has created a class of political and bureaucratic ‘entrepreneurs’ who treat public office as big business.
Second, as the vicious cycle of money power, polling irregularities, and corruption has taken hold of the system, electoral verdicts ceased to make a difference to people. Repeated disappointments made people come to the conclusion that no matter who wins the election, they always end up losing. As incentive for discerning behaviour in voting has disappeared, people started maximizing their short-term returns. As a result, money and liquor are accepted habitually by many voters. This pattern of behaviour only converted politics and elections into big business. As illegitimate electoral expenditure skyrocketed, the vicious cycle of corruption is further strengthened. With public good delinked from voting, honesty and survival in public office are further separated.
Third, this situation bred a class of political ‘entrepreneurs’ who established fiefdoms. In most constituencies, money power, caste clout, bureaucratic links, and political contacts came together perpetuating politics of fiefdoms. Entry into electoral politics is restricted in real terms, as people who cannot muster these forces have little chance of getting elected. While there is competition for political power, it is often restricted between two or three families over a long period of time; parties are compelled to choose one of these individuals or families to enhance their chances of electoral success. Parties thus are helpless, and political process is stymied. Absence of internal democratic norms in parties and the consequent oligarchic control has denied a possibility of rejuvenation of political process through establishment of a virtuous cycle.
Fourth, in a centralized governance system, even if the vote is wisely used by people, public good cannot be promoted. As the citizen is distanced from the decision-making process, the administrative machinery has no capacity to deliver public services of high quality or low cost. Such a climate which cannot ensure better services or good governance breeds competitive populism to gain electoral advantage. Such populist politics have led to serious fiscal imbalances.
Fifth, fiscal health can be restored only by higher taxes, or reduced subsidies or wages. The total tax revenues of the union and states are of the order of only 15 percent of GDP. Higher taxation is resisted in the face of ubiquitous corruption and poor quality services. Desubsidization is always painful for the poor who do not see alternative benefits accruing from the money saved by withdrawal of subsidies. A vast bureaucracy under centralized control can neither be held to account, nor is wage reduction a realistic option.
Sixth, elected governments are helpless to change this perilous situation. As the survival of the government depends on the support of legislators, their demands have to be met. The legislator has thus become the disguised, unaccountable executive controlling all facets of government functioning. The local legislator and the bureaucrats have a vested interest in denying local governments any say in real decision making. The vicious cycle of corruption and centralized, unaccountable governance is thus perpetuated.
Fierce contention in states:
As union-state relations are more balanced, and as the role of the state is more focused with the advent of economic reform process, most of real governance is now at the state level. Public order, justice, rule of law, school education, health care, most of the road network, electrical power, agriculture, rural development, urban planning and local governments – all these are essentially state subjects. Given the primacy of states in addressing citizens’ concerns, most political contention is centered around the states. The national electoral verdict is often an aggregate of the verdicts in states, with electorate utilizing every opportunity to pass a judgment on performance of state governments. Though voting irregularities are rampant, a system of compensatory errors and the tradition of neutrality of officials in election process ensures that the people’s will is broadly reflected in electoral verdicts. But as parties are compelled to choose among local political lords, the verdict does not alter the status quo.
Given this complex nature of our crisis, many of the reforms in the pipe line are necessary, but not sufficient. Apart from reforms in local governments, judiciary and bureaucracy and effective instruments to enforce accountability and check corruption, we need to pursue systemic reforms changing the nature of elections and process of power. In my considered judgment, there are three such reforms required.
§ 50 % members elected from territorial constituencies as now
§ Balance 50 % drawn from party lists and allotted on the basis of the proportion of total votes obtained by a party state-wise.
§ The total representation in legislature reflects the party’s vote share
§ Electors will have two votes one for the constituency, another for the party
§ A reasonable threshold would be necessary – say, 10 % of votes in a major state, to be eligible for allocation of seats based on proportional votes. This is to prevent fragmentation of our polity, and to discourage small caste-based parties
§ Incentives to buy votes in a constituency will disappear
§ Interests of a powerful local candidate will run counter to party’s need to maximize overall vote share
§ Voting will be based on party image and agenda, not local expenditure or feudal control
§ Scattered minorities and ignored sections will find voice and representation
§ Will give voice to small parties and reform groups, forcing pace of change
§ National parties will not be marginalized in states where their voting share falls below a high threshold (currently around 35-40 %)
§ Representation for women and minorities, and election of competent and honest candidates would be easy
§ The head of government will be directly elected by the people
§ He or she will form a cabinet drawing members from outside legislature
§ The government and legislature – both will have a fixed term
§ A person cannot be elected as chief executive for more than two terms
§ Strong legislative committees will exercise oversight functions
§ Elections will be much cleaner, as no one can buy a whole state electorate
§ Image and agenda of leadership will determine electoral outcomes
§ With Separation of powers, there will be no incentive to overspend for legislative office
§ As government will have a fixed term, honesty and political survival will be compatible
§ At the state level, there will be no fear of authoritarianism as the Union, Election Commission, Supreme Court etc will act as checks against abuse of authority.
§ Free and open membership with no arbitrary expulsions
§ Democratic, regular, free, secret ballot for leadership election; and opportunity to challenge and unseat leadership through formal procedures with no risk of being penalized
§ Democratic choice of party candidates for elective office by members or their elected delegates
§ Full transparency in funding and utilization of resources
We are thus moving into a critical phase in our democratic reform efforts. As the relatively simple electoral and other governance reforms are in place, the focus will shift to the larger systemic reforms which will alter the very nature of our political process. Our future activities and advocacy efforts must be based on this clear analysis and definition of goals.
1. A meeting of democratic reform activists was held in Trichy in Tamilnadu on 16th February. Among others, former CVC Sri N Vittal, Sri BS Raghavan, Sri AK Venkatasubramanian, Sri Elango and Jayaprakash Narayan participated.
2. Public Affairs Centre (PAC) organized a meeting on best practices in citizen’s initiatives for electoral and governance reforms from 7-9th of May in Bangalore. Among others, the experiences of PAC, Janaagraha, Bangalore Area Task Force (BATF), MKSS, Parivartan, Prajaa (Mumbai), and Lok Satta were analysed. PAC is documenting the best practices, and is emerging as a nodal agency for their dissemination. Efforts are being made to make it an annual conference.
3. Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) organized an Election Watch, collected data regarding criminal antecedents of candidates (from affidavits and other sources) and published details. A meeting was held with activists from several states on 10th and 11th of May in Ahmedabad to discuss future course of action in terms of Election Watch and disclosures.
4. A preparatory meeting was held on 24th April in Delhi for organizing Election Watch for the ensuing Assembly election. Another meeting will be held in 1st week of July to finalize the activities, their scope and role of various participant organizations.
5. MKSS has agreed to provide leadership to Election Watch efforts in Rajasthan. A meeting scheduled on 14th June has been postponed to July.
6. LOK SATTA formed a Federation for Local Governments Empowerment in AP. This was finalized after intensive campaign in all districts, followed by a state-level convention in Hyderabad on February 23rd. The Federation cuts across political parties, rural-urban divide, and the three tiers of panchayats. Major initiatives have been launched for mass mobilization, the culmination of which is expected to be collection of 10 million signatures from public seeking local government empowerment.
7. Institute of Social Sciences and Lok Satta convened a meeting of State Election Commissioners on 22nd April in Delhi on disclosures issue. This issue was discussed by SECs, and a broad consensus emerged to the effect that the disclosure norms should be enforced in respect of elections to local governments also; In respect of village panchayats, it was felt that these norms are cumbersome, and can be done away with. Already in certain states like Maharashtra, UP and Uttaranchal disclosure norms are being implemented.
8. Institute of Social Sciences organized a National Conference from 9th to 11th June to facilitate formation of a National Federation of Local Governments. A 15 member core team of elected local government leaders has been formed to carry forward the agenda.
The following are the key activities in the next few weeks to further the reform agenda:
1. Election Watch in States: Of the 5 states due for polls, Delhi and Rajasthan can organize Election Watch on a reasonable scale. All of us need to extend support to MKSS in Rajasthan, and a Core group which will be formed in the 1st week of July in Delhi.
We have not been successful in identifying sufficient civil society groups interested in Election Watch and electoral and governance reform initiatives in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Mizoram. If any such groups come forward, we need to extend all support.
2. We need to pursue the positive reforms now in the pipeline, and ensure their enactment and effective enforcement.
3. The CVC Bill is on the anvil, and it contains the ‘single directive’ by which the CBI cannot independently investigate corruption of senior functionaries. We need to bring pressure on the union government to remove such fetters. If the law is enacted in its current form, we shall challenge it before the Supreme Court.
4. The issue of post office as nodal agency for voter registration should be pursued until accessible and people-friendly voter registration is in place.
5. Lok Sabha elections are likely to be held in early 2004. We need to organize Election Watch (EW) is as many states as possible. In addition to EW activities, the campaign must be geared to educating people about the electoral and governance reforms required, and mobilizing public opinion.
6. Shri Anna Hazare is preparing to launch a movement against corruption in Maharashtra from 9th August. We need to give all support from all over the country, and convert it into a national campaign against corruption and for governance reform. A LOK SATTA team visited Maharashtra to discuss details with Shri Hazare. Shri Hazare and his colleagues are visiting Andhra Pradesh on 7th and 8th of July to share ideas, strengthen bonds, and forge a strategic alliance.
7. A Local Courts Bill has been drafted by LOK SATTA. This model has application in all major states. It provides a simple, low-cost, people-friendly model for speedy justice in the local language. The local courts will be integral part of the independent judiciary, and there will be provision for appeal. Such a model needs to be propagated, and we should take up advocacy of such local courts in all states.
This is an unusually long communication. I felt it is needed to clarify our thoughts and help us find our way forward. Any serious reform advocacy must be based on clear thinking, rational analysis, and sensible goals. Opportunities will always knock the doors, and once the goals are clear, we can design campaigns and activities to suit the requirements. Recent events show that we are quite close to the tipping point. All we need now is concerted action to mobilize public opinion and convince parties to accelerate reform in their own enlightened self-interest.
With warm regards