Insights into Editorial: It is time to have a debate on proportional representation

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Insights into Editorial: It is time to have a debate on proportional representation


 

Various electoral reforms like improving transparency in party funding and holding simultaneous elections are being debated in our country.

In country’s electoral process there are wide range of challenges posed by electoral bonds, the concerns over the tampering of electronic voting machines (EVMs), and the problems with the first-past-the-post system.

What are Electoral Bonds?

An electoral bond is an interest free banking instrument for political funding. It can be purchased in SBI for 10 days in January, April, July and October.  It will increase to 30days during LS election year.

Bonds are available only in specifies denominations.

The bearer bond will ensure anonymity. They can be brought with a cheque or electronic money.

Are Electoral Bonds the solution for making political funding Transparent? 

Free and fair elections are not possible without transparency in political funding.

Earlier, all donations above ₹20,000 were disclosed to the EC. Political parties accept donations in crores and convert them into cheques of ₹20,000 — and this is more than 75% of all collection of political parties where sources are unknown.

Now, with electoral bonds, 100% source will be unknown.

The government has decided to give precedence to the donors’ wish to be anonymous for two reasons: one, other parties would make a beeline for their donations, and two, fear of political reprisal from those not getting the donation.

The real reason probably was that they don’t want the quid pro quo to get known.

There is one good thing about electoral bonds: cash transactions will not happen as people will have to buy bonds through the bank.

With the introduction of electoral bonds, the donors’ desire for transparency has got preference over citizens’ desire for transparency and the people’s right to know.

Is the removal of the 7.5% capping on corporate donations a good idea?

There exists no limit on the number of electoral bonds that a corporate entity can purchase. The earlier cap of 7.5% of net profits of past three years that companies could donate to political parties has been removed.

The reason for capping is that the companies should not start influencing political processes.

With the removal of cap, there is possibility of companies involving more in crony capitalism.

What could be the better solution other than electoral bonds for transparent political funding?

One solution may be having a National Electoral Fund, where companies can donate without indicating preference for any political party and thereby avoiding the reprisal they claim to fear.

The fund can be distributed to all parties transparently on the basis of actual performance.

Major political parties have been demanding an end to electoral corruption, and state funding of elections.

However, state funding has been opposed as that will be impossible to monitor, and suggesting state funding of political parties, which may be easy to monitor. 

Is a simultaneous election, an idea which has been mooted by the Prime Minister a good idea?

Money in elections is the source of all corruption. Continuous elections whether at state level or national level, will increase this corruption.

Communalism and casteism are at a peak during elections. Hateful, divisive politics is the consequence of frequent elections. For all these reasons conducting simultaneous elections is a good idea.

The arguments against that idea are also seems to be strong. National and local issues are different and depend on their local dynamics.

Interestingly, initially the Prime Minister had mentioned that there should be simultaneous elections at all three levels. Somewhere down the line, the third tier has disappeared from the debate.

India is a federal country. Regional parties have an increasingly important role to play. If they feel threatened by the proposal, they are bound to oppose it, making consensus impossible.

In a scenario where 29 State governments have come to power with absolute majority, if at the Centre the government falls, why should the States suffer?

But in an era of coalition governments, there is the possibility of governments falling, when a partner chooses to leave.

Why does proportional representation (PR) not suited in India in its present context?

FPTP is the best system for its simplicity but PR systems is not practical for India. There is also an apprehension that PR carries the threat of further dividing our society on caste, religious and other lines.

However, there are limitations as well in FPTP. For instance, in 2014 elections, one party with third largest vote share of 20% could not win even a single seat.

This is not good for a democracy like India in the long run. It is also time to have a national debate on this. We could look at the German model where they have a mixed system — half PR and half FPTP.

Should we go back to paper ballots?

No. Because our EVMs have stood the test of time.

Every political party has raised questions about EVMs at different times. And when with the same machines they come to power, they go silent.

Introduction of voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) makes the system transparent and fool proof.

The EC has now committed to the Supreme Court that every election in future would be with 100% VVPAT. The Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections were the first-ever full VVPAT elections.

What is to be done to enhance the credibility of the EC?

The main problem lies in the process of appointment of Election Commissioners. They are appointed by the government of the day with no consultation with the Opposition.

We should have a collegium to appoint the CEC like we have a collegium system for the CVC (Central Vigilance Commissioner) and the CIC (Central Information Commissioner).