Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 5

Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our sinking democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)

Government formation

Selection of Prime Minister (PM) / Chief Minister of a state (CM) is often influenced not by capacity for governance but by extent of hero worship of a leader on the one hand and fear psychosis created by vested interests on the other. A popular “hero” cannot be a “master” in every aspect of governance and can even be a “zero” in some aspects.  PM /CM should have the capacity to (1) manage even a heterogeneous team without curbing their enthusiasm like a dictator, and (2) resist pressures from vested interests. Popularity should only be an additional quality.

Moreover, the method of selection does not have even a semblance of democracy. A coterie of most influential leaders of the party (or parties) which form government makes the selection and a farcical election is conducted to give pretence of democracy. As a result, the PM/CM is not able to function effectively because of lack of firm majority support and domination by other power centre(s). PM /CM has to support ministers who are corrupt, inefficient or acting against national / state interest, instead of taking action against them. Non-government members of the coterie exercise powers without accountability. PM /CM has to suffer such distortions and also becomes answerable for the consequences.

PM / CM and the coterie of influential leaders then select ministers and allot portfolios to them. Experience and efficiency in carrying out required functions are supposed to play a part. But, in reality, there are number of extraneous considerations and power play which are not conducive to running an efficient government in a democratic manner.

All these actually result in a type of subtle and concealed dictatorship rather than a democracy.

These aspects depict the seventh and serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

To overcome this obstacle and enable the PM / CM to be able to function effectively with support of peoples’ representatives and without interference from other power centres, they should be directly elected by Parliament / Assembly, preferably through secret ballot. PM / CM can then select the team of ministers from the MPs / MLAs. The efficiency assessments suggested in Articles 3 and 4 will immensely help to objectively elect an efficient member as PM / CM and for them to select efficient ministers.

Another aspect is that a government can function only for a maximum period of five years even if its performance has immensely benefited the country. Why should the country gamble by spending enormous amounts of public money to replace such a desirable government with a new government every five years when there is no surety that a new government will be better than this efficient government? Moreover, lack of continuity leads to avoidable distractions and distortions in functioning of government. Will a corporate body or private enterprise change an efficient CEO merely to have a change at regular intervals? Why are we not applying such thoughts to have continuity of good governance? Is it because public “business” is nobody’s business and lacks in a sense of commitment?

This undesirable convention of unnecessarily changing even efficient governments is due to linking government formation with Parliament / Assembly formation. Why dismiss an efficient government just because a new Parliament / Assembly has to be constituted? All that is necessary is that the government should continue to be efficient and answerable to the new Parliament / Assembly.

On the other hand, a five year period can allow inefficiency and / or lack of transparency to continue for five years and ruin the country. In such a situation, why should we not immediately change that undesirable government without wasting lot of time to dissolve Parliament / Assembly, wait for completion of election processes, form a new Parliament / Assembly and then form a new government, unless these institutions are also at fault? Keeping in view the importance of having an efficient and accountable government, the Parliament / Assembly (not the coterie of influential leaders) ought to seriously consider selection of another set of members to form government.  Any obstacles to this should be removed in order to ensure dismissal of an inefficient or corrupt government without wasting time and incurring massive expenses for re-election of Parliament / Assembly.

In either situation mentioned above, interests of the concerned political parties may come in the way of peoples’ representatives taking suitable action with independence to (1) have an efficient and accountable government and (2) avoid spending enormous amounts of public money to form a new Parliament / Assembly when not required. It seems that the only tangible reason for regular change of Parliament / Assembly and government even when these are working efficiently is felt need or ambitions of politicians. If there are no other major reasons for the rigid 5-year change, is it appropriate to have a governance system tutored to the needs and ambitions of politicians?

Need for change of government should be based only on a regular system of assessment of efficiency of governance and follow up actions suggested in Article 3.  Providing the option to either continue or change government based on efficiency assessment will also increase the sense of accountability in the government system.

Should we not think seriously about removing the linkages mentioned above which come in the way of continuity of efficient and accountable governance or dismissal of an inefficient or corrupt government?
These aspects depict the eighth and serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

Overcoming this obstacle requires flexibility in choosing periodicity of elections (as suggested in Article 3) and de-linking Parliament / Assembly formation and political party system from government formation. These will help in two ways: (1) either continue an efficient government even after five years or dismiss an inefficient government whenever required and (2) save huge election expenses. What is urgently required is to start a regular system of assessment of efficiency of governance to decide on periodicity of government formation. This ought to be organized and conducted by a statutory body like the Election Commission as suggested in Article 4.

Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and suggestions to overcome these obstacles are welcome. Please send these to I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the revised system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the revised system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.

You can help to save our sinking democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through personal group discussions, newspaper articles, e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our sinking democracy.

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