The health of a democracy depends on the choice of representatives and leaders, which in turn is directly linked to the way political parties function and the manner in which elections are conducted. While we have outstanding men and women in public life, flawed electoral process is increasingly alienating public-spirited citizens from the political and electoral arena. The persons best equipped to represent the people find it impossible to be elected by adhering to law and propriety. If elected, decent citizens cannot survive for long in elected public office without resorting to, or conniving in, dishonest methods. Even if they survive in office, their ability to promote public good is severely restricted.
People of India have often been changing governments and elected representatives. However, this change of players has little real impact on the nature of governance. Even if all those elected lose, and all losers are elected, the outcome is not substantially altered. This sad situation calls for a change in the rules of the game, and citizens cannot be content with mere change of players.
Nothing is more important in today’s India than political and electoral reforms to transform the nature of politics and governance, and to restore public confidence. Many reforms have been suggested from time to time, and some have been implemented. FDR has been a pioneer for the several electoral and political reforms initiated in the country. The various advocacy efforts of FDR have led to the enactment of following important laws and reforms:
Towards Decriminalization of Politics
- Disclosure of criminal records, property affidavits along with nomination papers made compulsory
- Supreme Court’s order for immediate disqualification of convicted legislators in 2013
Political party funding-The Election and Other Related Laws (Amendment) Act, 2003
- Full tax exemption to individuals and corporates on all contributions to political parties
- Mandatory disclosure of party finances and contributions over Rs 20,000 to Election Commission
The Constitution (Ninety first Amendment) Act, 2003
- Limitation on the size of Council of Ministers – Number restricted to 15 % of the strength of the lower house
- Strengthening Anti-defection law–Making it mandatory for all those switching political sides – whether singly or in groups – to resign their legislative membership and seek re-election, and also bar legislators from holding, post-defection, any office of profit
Voting rights for NRIs from 2010
- Conducted research in the necessary legal and regulatory reforms for providing voting rights for Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in collaboration with NRI advocacy groups from across the world. These were submitted to the Government of India (GoI) in 2009 and 2010 which were followed by the landmark amendment to the “Representation of People (RP) Act”, resulting in NRIs getting the right to vote for the first time in 2010
- Made specific recommendations towards enabling the use of Information&Communication and Internet based technology to facilitate easier, safe and secure voting
Voter registration made simple, transparent, and accessible for the following
- Enrollment of voters
- Verification and correction of voters’ particulars
- Deletion of ineligible and bogus voters
- Mapping of polling booths to individual voter IDs/EPIC
- ‘365 days, 24×7’ access to voter details, anywhere in the country, through Multiple interfaces (computers, SMSes, automated telephone messages etc.)
- Voters list in each polling station
Other Reforms under consideration
However, more systemic reforms are needed to address the problems of money power, decline of national political parties and abdication of the best and the brightest. Such a reform must be broadly acceptable, easily achievable, and must have minimal risk of unintended negative consequences. Therefore, FDR is strongly advocating for the following:
- Removal of the significance of the marginal vote -Mixed Proportional Representation system– Best suited Model for India.
- Decriminalization of Politics-Stringent disqualification norms
- Clear Separation of Powers at the State and Local Levels through Direct Election of Head of Government
- Internal democracy in political parties
- Compulsory voting
- Timely conduct of elections – Election Commission’s functioning
- Reducing the Burden of “imposed‟ elections – Candidates contesting from multiple constituencies and/or causing bye-elections.
- Criteria for registration of political parties – Deregistration of defunct political parties.
- Minimizing the number of non-serious electoral candidates – Need for increasing the security deposit of candidates.
- State Funding of political parties