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Advani and compulsory voting

Advani and compulsory voting
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First Published: Mon, May 04 2009. 10 19 PM IST
Updated: Mon, May 04 2009. 10 19 PM IST
Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani has argued in favour of compulsory voting and a fixed tenure of state legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha.
He made these suggestions after casting his vote on Thursday. His argument was that India followed the British pattern, which does not suit this country. This is a wrong remedy for a problem that requires medicine our leaders seem incapable of administering. If voting were to be made compulsory, exercising one’s franchise would no longer be democratic: It would wipe out the line between a dictatorial fiat and a citizen’s urge for meaningful political participation.
Low voter turnout and voter apathy have causes that require different redress than what Advani suggests. In a hypothetical, perfect democracy, the only costs borne by citizens while casting their votes are the physical cost of going to a voting booth and the costs associated with acquiring information about the policy platforms of political parties and ordering their preferences about rival candidates.
In a real, functional democracy such as India, there are added costs. These include the inaccessibility of elected representatives, their inability to solve the problems of their constituents and, in many instances, their utter disregard for the well-being of those they represent. This sets in motion a chain of events that ultimately leads to voter disenchantment. The low voter turnout in constituencies as diverse as Amethi in Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai can be explained by these factors.
These are the costs of democracy that weigh heavily on voters. In a sense, despondency can be classed as a cost on democracy. Politicians are the problem, not citizen apathy.
Advani’s other suggestion of fixed terms for legislatures, too, falls in the category of non-solutions. The instability of governments cannot be tackled by fixing the tenure of legislatures. Again, the problem is the inability of parties to agree on policies and a political agenda. It has nothing to do with the tenure of a legislature. Such a situation, where parties have to agree on policy platforms because they can’t seek a mandate again, will lead to suboptimal solutions to political problems.
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First Published: Mon, May 04 2009. 10 19 PM IST