Our elected representatives don’t really represent us
At times we curse democracy because democracy necessarily means that the majority chooses the elected representatives, which in turn means that minority interests may not represented. But in India majority interests may not be represented either. It is not just the low voter turnout that ensures this, but also the splitting of votes amongst multiple candidates which reduces the winner’s vote share. An article in the DNA was a stark reminder of the fact that our so-called elected representatives are not really our representatives.
Take a look at these two tables from a government of India site. The first table details the actual percentage of votes that winners received and it’s startling to know that only six winners got over 70% of the votes. The majority of the winners received less than 50% of the votes, and over a hundred winners polled below 40% of the votes.
But wait. That was just about those who actually voted. The table below takes into account the whole constituency, which means all eligible voters, including those who did not vote. The picture then becomes grimmer. Not a single winner has the mandate of over 70% of the people although 2 winners (tried to get these names online but could not) have the mandate of over 60% of the people. And as you can see, most “winners” lack the mandate of the majority of the people. What is worrying is that even if a candidate represents just 10% of all eligible voters in a constituency, he can still get elected to parliament! Why complain then if criminals and dishonest people get elected? And why blame those poor souls who go out there and cast their vote? As it says in the same DNA article, in a three or four sided contest particularly, “more votes are cast against the winning candidate than for them.”
Different states have differing trends. Only Delhi, Haryana and the northeastern states of Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are places from where each and every elected MP got over 50% of the vote share. Tamil Nadu comes a close second with over 85% (34 of 39) of the winners getting over 50% of the votes polled. Andhra Pradesh doesn’t fare too badly as about 69% of the winners (29 out of 42) won by over 50% of the votes cast. More than half of the winners from West Bengal, Rajasthan and Orissa polled over 50% of the votes. Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh had a significant number of winners who polled over 50% of votes. However, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar don’t do too well here. Only about 25% of Bihar’s winners (11 out of 40) got over 50% votes but only 11% of UP’s winners (9 seats out of 80) polled over 50% of the votes. This means that only 9 MP’s in Uttar Pradesh truely represent the majority of the people in their constituency!
One cannot always avoid multiple candidates standing for election due to various “groups” who want their own candidate, but voter turnout in India has been disappointing. In any case as long as parties put up uninspiring candidates, voters are not about to be lured out of their beds on the voting holiday.
It’s not just about criminals and inept people. It’s also about those few honest people who refuse to retire. India today is young and the young don’t want to vote for the old. Well, certainly not for those over the age of 70. The table below gives the average age of Lok Sabha members over the years.
However it might be of interest to some that the average age of the American Congress is 57, higher than ours. In fact Obama will be working with the nation’s oldest Congress ever. The oldest member of the House is Ralph Hall, who is over 85 years old! The average age of the UK parliament is 50.6. UK’s oldest MP is Ian Paisley, MP for North Antrim, who is over 80 years old.
But then the United States population is much older than India’s, with over half of Americans over the age of 40 and in the UK, the majority of the population is over 35. On the other hand more than half of India’s population is under the age of 25 and even by 2020, “the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan.”
Some political parties have got wise and want to field younger and fitter candidates. Unfortunately the candidates in question may not always agree! They defy their parties even if they are 79 years old and unfit physically, as in the case of George Fernandes.