Sunday, June 24, 2007

Election of the president of India

In the words of Woodrow Wilson, the President is the representative of no constituency but of the whole people. The President of India, unlike that of the USA, has no executive power; but he represents “the majesty of the people incarnate”. His office symbolizes the unity and integrity of the State. He is above the chances and changes of party politics; and his election is, therefore, of special importance in a country like India with deep political divisions and numerous political parties.

Constitutional morality dictates that merit should be the sole criterion for the election of the Head of State. But the motivations and machinations of political parties suggest that merit has been subordinated by some groups to caste, creed or gender.

If the President has to be chosen by the democratic process, it is difficult to imagine of a more satisfactory method than that embodied in our fundamental law. There are five cardinal rules laid down in our Constitution to regulate the election of the President.

Firstly, the voting at the election is by secret ballot. Since the Head of State is expected to be above party politics, every vote for or against him is expected to be a conscience vote. This is meant to avoid vitiation of the election process by party politics.

Secondly, the election of the President is indirect. Nothing would be gained by having the President elected by “the mass man”. The Electoral College consists of the elected members of both houses of Parliament, and the elected members of the legislative assemblies of the states. The reason why the members of state assemblies have been included in the Electoral College is to prevent the President being elected merely by the vote of the party or coalition of parties which happens to be in power at the Centre.

Thirdly, there has to be uniformity among the states inter se, as far as practicable. This is achieved by ensuring that the rule of one voter, one vote, does not apply. Every elected member of the legislative assembly of a state has as many votes as there are multiples of one thousand in the quotient obtained by dividing the population of the state by the total number of elected members of the assembly. Uniformity in the scale of representation is brought about by the members of the legislative assemblies of thickly populated states having a larger number of votes than the members of the assemblies of less populous states.

Fourthly, the rule is that there should be parity between the states taken together and the Union. This is achieved by the provision that the elected members of the two houses of Parliament would have the same number of votes as the aggregate of the votes of the elected representatives of the state assemblies taken together.

Fifthly, the election of the President has to be held in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. The object of this rule is to afford the minorities a better voice in the selection of the Head of State.

This method is known as “the alternative vote” in a single-member constituency. At the time when the votes are cast, every member of the Electoral College has to indicate which candidate he votes for in the order of preference. If a candidate gets an absolute majority of the votes cast, he would be deemed to have been elected and it would be unnecessary to have a recount. But if no candidate has secured an absolute majority of the votes cast, the subsequent preferences have to be taken into account. This is the effect of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Election Rules, 1952.

Since the voting is by secret ballot and there is provision for second preference, any attempt by political parties to manipulate the success or failure of a candidate before the election takes place is tantamount to tampering with the election process. The manner in which political parties are behaving at present is a matter of national shame.

Let the democratic process take its own course.

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