Category: Opinions Written by The Nation Mirror Admin
fter studying democracy as a form of government and various theories about its nature and working, it shall, therefore, now be in the natural fitness of things to discuss the institutional mechanism of democracy. The most essential institutions, as listed by Prof. Charles Merriam, are the “suffrage, the representative council, the apparatus of civil liberties, sound administrative organization and systems of adjudication”.
Now our purpose is to discuss the methods and institutions by which a democratic government is organized. The themes of suffrage or franchise and representation immediately engage our attention. How should representatives be recruited? Who should be entitled to vote? How should electoral districts be carved out? How should various functions and segments be allowed to choose their representatives? Such questions have been answered in different countries in different ways and so we have different theories on the themes and methods of franchise and representation.
Theories of franchise or suffrage.
Franchise literally means a person’s right to vote. But a pertinent question arises as to who should be given this right. Whether it should be restricted to a section of the society like nobles, lords, aristocrats, freemen, property holders, males, domiciles, etc. or it should be given to all without discrimination on some conventional ground, different views are available on this important theme out of which following theories have emerged:
1. Tribal theory: it appeared in the primitive organizations of the Greeks, the Romans and the Germanic tribes and had its best development in the Greek city - states. The suffrage was not viewed as a right or as a privilege, but as a necessary and natural part of the active life of every citizen. Membership in the state carried with it the obligation to take active parts in its life. The modern practice of requiring citizenship as a qualification for voting represents a survival of this theory.
2. Feudal theory: In the later part of the Middle Ages when the system of representation was developing, the right to vote was considered a vested privilege, attached to those occupying ownership of land. Modern property qualifications for voting are a survival of this theory, as are the systems of plural voting such as one which existed until the First World War in Great Britain, where persons who owned estates in various parts of the country had the right to vote in each of these places.
3. Natural Rights theory: The theory of an original state of nature, in which all men are free and equal and possess natural rights, and of the establishment of the state and government by a voluntary contract created the doctrine of popular sovereignty. All political power is derived from the people who create it. In accordance with these principles, the right to take part in government becomes a natural right by means of which the general will of the people may be formulated and the government be made responsible to the consent of the governed.
4. Legal theory: The electorate is viewed as one of the organs of government whose composition and powers are determined by the laws of the states. Voting thereby becomes a function of government, the exercise of a public trust. The question of who may vote and for what the voters may do is decided by each state from the point of view of political efficiency. Suffrage, therefore, is not natural but a political right conferred by law. This theory served as a justification for various reform movements for democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries.
‘5. Ethical theory: It holds the desirability of right to vote not as a natural right but as .a means for the most complete development of human personality and worth. By taking active part in the government, the citizen becomes more interested in public questions and more intelligent concerning public policy than he otherwise would be. His capacity for self government is thereby increased, and his dignity and self respect are enhanced by the opportunity for self expression in political affairs. This theory has been used to justify the extension of suffrage, as a means of political education, to classes not fully competent to exercise it wisely. The granting of suffrage to former slaves at the time of civil war in America is an instance of this kind.
The essential weakness of the two theories (feudal and legal) is that these restrict right to vote on the basis of a particular privilege or ability.
Universal adult franchise:
As pointed out above, the most widely accepted theory of franchise in present times is that right to vote should be given to all adult citizens without any discrimination on some artificial or unreasonable ground. Any restriction in this direction on the basis of religion, race, creed, wealth, language, domicile, colour of the skin, sex, culture, ideology. What is really required is that the minimum age of a voter should be specified (as of 18 years in Britain, or of 20 years as in Switzerland, USA and Russia, or 21 years in France) and then every adult citizen on acquiring the position of adult should be given right to vote, the states may make voting compulsory ( as in Australia ) and thereby penalize a person for not exercising his franchise without a valid reason.
The meats of the system of universal adult franchise are:
1. It’s in accord with the principle of equality. It stands on the formula of one person, one vote democracy recognizes the principle of natural equality of mankind. As such, all citizens should have equal access to power.
2. It’s the expression of popular sovereignty. From Rousseau’s doctrine that sovereignty is vested in the people and that in consequence every citizen has an inalienable right to participate in the exercise of that sovereignty, the natural right of voting follows as a matter of logical conclusion.
3. It also imparts political education to the people. It is well said that political enfranchisement of the masses leads to their political enlightenment. It inspires a citizen to learn the mechanism of a democratic system.
4. The best way to make democracy successful is to have participation of as many people in the political process as possible more and more politicization of the people is essential in a democratic setup. Universal adult franchise makes it possible.
5. It inculcates and enhances the feeling of self respect in the mind of an individual when he knows that even the great leaders of the country come to him for seeking his vote. As a voter, he feels his status elevated. A voter thereby realizes his place in the political community.
6. It creates and develops the sense of national solidarity. When people elect their representatives without any discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, creed, sex, language, wealth, domicile etc; they develop feelings of natural solidarity. The elected representatives also feel a sense of their accountability to the electorate as a whole.
7. It enables the people to safeguard their civil and political rights. They may force their chosen representatives to act according to their will, in case of the legislators or the executive heads dishonor electoral mandate, the voters may issue a threat of not electing them again and thereby they may force the government to protect their rights and liberties.
8. It also enables the minorities to safeguard their rights. Great leaders woo support of the minorities in their interest. The minorities may also elect their representatives to act on their behalf. In this way, the prospects of any ill-treatment meted out to the minorities are minimized.
On the other hand, this system has its demerits, these are:
1. It leads to the rule of ignorance and inefficiency. Demagogues and crafty politicians mange to collect the votes of the under serving persons and it makes democracy corrupt and inefficient.
2. It is unwise and dangerous. Right to vote is a privilege that should be given only to those who know the value of their vote. The factor of merit or equality is ignored. It makes the ignorant fall into anarchy today and into despotism tomorrow.
3. Right to vote should be given to those who have a sense of political responsibility. It requires the equality of active citizenship. In case it is given to everyone, the result would be that votes would be bought and sole in the election market.
4. It retards economic progress of the country. It is said that modern economic system could develop at a time when there was no democracy, when right to vote is given to all, the workers misuse this right to an extent that an account of their frequent agitations the working of industry is paralyzed.
5. All citizens should not be given right to vote because the participation of numerous people would lead to political destabilization. More and parties and groups would come up to create problems for the government and the struggle for power among them would widen the arena of competition to an undesirable extent. Naturally, political stability would suffer.
Plural or weighted voting
The system of plural or weighted voting also known as differential voting signifies that discrimination should be made on some basis so that citizens have more votes as compared to others. For instance, the constitution of Belgium of 1893 granted one right to vote to every citizen above the age of 25 years and then are more vote to a person who had completed the age of 35 years had a legitimate offspring, and paid a tax of 5 Francs to the state; such a supplementary vote was also extended to every landed proprietor having a property worth at least 2,000 francs and was above 25 years of age. Besides two more votes were given to every citizen above 25 years of age who possessed a diploma from an institution of higher learning or a certificate showing the completion of a course of secondary education or who held or had practiced a private profession which presupposed that the holder passed at least a secondary education. But the revised constitution of 1921 abolished this system.
Whether women should be given right to vote or not, it has been a matter of controversy. Aristotle frankly deprived the female of all political rights on the plea that their world was confined to hearths and homes. But the movement for female franchise gathered more and more weight in the 19C. Some leaders like Condorcet and others at the time of French revolution presented a charter to the national assembly asking for female franchise. John Stuart mill wrote a powerful “monograph” to titled subjection of women (1869) in which he insisted on granting all political rights to the females as those available to the males.
Election and its methods
Election means recruitment of the representatives by the choice of voters. In case the voters choose a representative by their votes, its direct election for instance, the members of the British House of Commons or the American House of Representatives or of the Indian Lok Sabha are elected directly by the voters of the country. Different from this, when the voters elect some persons who elect some other person, it becomes indirect election. The intermediary body is called ‘electoral college’. For example, the American voters elect the elector who elects the president.