Tuesday, April 28, 2009

India's Elections

Those who follow international news will already know that India—the most populous democracy in the history of the world—is currently in the middle of its (nearly month-long) federal elections. Poli-Tea has pointed me to a pair of dueling editorials on whether India would be better-served by becoming a two-party country (like the United States) or by fostering as many parties as possible.

First, some background. India uses single-winner plurality districts to elect all (well, all but two...) members of its lower parliamentary house, which if you've been reading the blog you know means it will tend toward two-party dominance. But currently, India has a lot of parties, and many of them actually have representation. Three facts contribute to this apparent contradiction. First, parliamentary governments better resist two-party domination (as compared to presidential governments like the United States has). Second, India has been a Republic for a relatively short time, 60 years, and the pressure to fall into the two-party trap operates over multiple election cycles. Third, and perhaps most important, India is a very regionally-divided country; most of those parties are very regional-focused in nature, and only six meet the rather low requirement to be listed as "national parties", that requirement being simply recognition in just four of India's 28 states.

The two-party side argues that, with so many parties, it was difficult to form a government (under a parliamentary system, a majority of the parliament must come together to form the government—what we would call the administration—and put forward a prime minister), or that government coalitions would collapse–usually over budget issues–necessitating a new election. And there's precedent for that fear, because it has happened at least three times since the year 1989. He goes on to say that, with just two parties, you always know the winner has a true majority (well I guess that's true), that the government will be less extreme (probably not), and corruption will decrease (I doubt it).

The multi-party side argues that two-party domination means many far-flung regions will have their issues ignored and eventually politics will devolve into a one-party dominated system. And there's precedent for that fear since one party, the Indian National Congress, dominated the government until the year 1989. He goes on to argue that regional parties better serve their regions (no argument there), and that perhaps a three-party system would be best (unlikely).

But there's more than these two options. What I think (as a mostly uninformed American) is that India could be well-served some form of proportional representation (PR). They already have a work-around to try to shoehorn a minimal amount of PR in: some seats are reserved for specific castes and tribes. PR has worked well in many other parliamentary systems to preserve regional differences while still leading to effective governments (Ireland's lower house and Australia's upper house come to mind). It might be something worth considering.

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