Democracy means people governing themselves through trusted representatives. To realize this objective, in the bygone eras, people came up with three fundamental concepts, the best they could do in those times: 1) dividing the country/state into multiple constituencies, 2) conducting elections every few years and 3) declaring the candidate who secures the majority votes as the official representative of all the constituents, those who voted for him/her as well as those who did not.
The times have changed now. We are living in a world of instant, round-the-clock connectivity, thanks to the emergence of the internet, mobile phones and such. These technologies are helping us do better in every sphere of life. Previously, for example, we used to go to a specific branch of a bank during specific hours of the day to deposit or withdraw money. We used to use physical cash for making payments. Now, we do all money transfers using an ATM or a smartphone app or a computer, at any time and from anywhere, without having to use cash or checks or having to go to a branch of a bank. These improvements added to our personal convenience and spurred economic growth as well.
We should make use of these technological advances in the sphere of representational governance also. We do not need to continue with the current archaic model that was designed in a bygone era. In this article, we present a new model of sophisticated and smart representational governance that makes use of these technological advances. We call it Modern Age Representational Governance, or MARG, for short. We will now describe the model in detail.
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In the MARG model, there are no constituencies and elections as we know them now. Political leaders can register their candidacy with the election office at any time, without a reference to a specific constituency. Any voter can choose any leader from among the registered ones as his/her representative. A voter can do so anytime from anywhere at an election office or e-seva center or post-office, by using a smartphone app, all of which are connected to the same computer systems in the back-end. Further, the voter can change his/her representative anytime he/she wishes.
We call all the voters who chose a specific leader as their representative as the Trust Base of that leader. The Trust Base of a leader can be from one specific region or can be spread across the country/state. Every leader whose Trust Base rises above a minimum set size will become an official representative and any leader whose Trust Base falls below the minimum set size will cease to be a representative. We use the acronym MTB for Minimum Trust Base.
We impose two three-month limits in this process to make it simpler and better. The first limit is that voters have to wait for 90 days to change their representative since the last time they made such a change. This prevents the voters from changing their representatives too frequently and impulsively. It also reduces the load on the election offices and the computer systems. The second limit is that leaders should maintain their Trust Base above MTB continuously for 90 days to gain power. If and when their Trust Base falls below MTB and stays there continuously for 90 days, they will lose power. This prevents leaders whose Trust Base hovers around MTB from gaining power one day and losing it the next day.
Also, in this model, voters will have multiple (say ten) votes and can choose more than one representative by distributing the ten votes in any proportion to any candidate, as they like. For example, a particular voter may give all the ten votes to one candidate. Another voter may give four votes to one candidate and three votes to another one and the rest of the three to a third one.
The election office publishes every day the size of the Trust Base of all the registered candidates, but not the voters who form that Trust Base. The anonymity of the voter’s choice is maintained confidential, as it is done today. Computer technology has advanced enough to keep certain information confidential and certain information public.
The process of representatives electing one among them as the leader of the Executive, i.e., as Prime Minister at the central level and as Chief Ministers at the state level continues as it does today. The leader of the executive enjoys the power only as long as he/she enjoys the confidence of the legislature, just as it is true today. However, there would be nothing like the executive head dissolving the elected body of representatives as it happens today. Legislative bodies, i.e., Parliament and Assemblies are permanent bodies in the MARG model, with only the members changing based on the changes in the size of their Trust Bases.
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MARG model solves many issues and problems we face in the current archaic model and brings many benefits to the voters, to the political leaders, to the political parties, to democracy, to the economy, and to society, which we will present now in detail.
- In the current model, considering the fact that only about 70% of voters turn out in the elections and considering that the polled votes are split between multiple candidates, the actual winning candidates typically receive only thirty to forty percent of the votes. This means, on average, on any given day, sixty to seventy percent of the voters do not have their trusted representative in power. This defeats the very premise of democracy, of people governing themselves through trusted representatives. Ideally, at least 70% to 80% of voters should see their representative in power. In the MARG model, if the MTB is set at 30%, everyone who secures more than 30%, be it 32% or 38%, would become an official representative. This means about 70% of the voters would have a trusted representative in power. By adjusting the MTB size appropriately using statistical methods, we can achieve the goal of 70% to 80% of voters having a trusted representative in power all the time.
- No wise person will put all his money in one bank, or in one stock, or in one property. Similarly, no voter should put all his/her trust in one leader. No leader is infallible. But, the current election model, by giving only one vote per voter, forces each individual voter to put all his or her trust in only one candidate. And worse, if their chosen candidate does not win, they are forced by the system to put their faith in a leader whom they did not trust to begin with. The MARG model relieves the voters from this predicament. By distributing their votes to multiple candidates, they can put their trust in multiple leaders.
- Further, choosing one candidate among all the contestants is not easy, especially when the candidates happen to be equally worthy or equally unworthy, which is what is demanded by the current model. In the MARG model, voters can distribute their votes to multiple candidates in the proportion of their relative worthiness. In other words, they get a chance to 'rate' the candidates as opposed to being forced to endorse only one candidate and reject all the others completely.
- Many voters, in the current model, abstain from voting, as they feel that their vote will go 'waste' because they fear that their chosen candidate will not win. In the MARG model, because of MTB criterion, their chosen candidate can get into power without having to gain more votes than every other candidate, as long as he/she obtains the minimum votes. In other words, more voters would see their chosen candidates in power. And it encourages every voter to actively participate in the democratic process.
- Since there are no elections in the MARG model, there would be no related huge expenses for the candidates or parties every five years.
- Because there are no elections, there would be no ‘election season’ as we know it now. There will be no half-a-year to a year disruption to normal public life that we see every five years with the current model.
- In the current model, resources are drawn from many government departments during the election season, disrupting their normal function. In the MARG model, with no elections, there is no such need. The election offices can perform their duties such as voter enrollment all around the year, at an even pace.
- In the current model, young people attaining the voting age, i.e., turning eighteen, right after the day of the election, have to wait till the next election, i.e., till the age of twenty-three, to exercise their right to vote for the first time. In the MARG model, there will be no such delay for eligible voters. As soon as one attains the voting age, one can register oneself as a voter at an election office, and distribute one's votes to the candidates of one's choice on the same day.
- In the current model, people who are away from home have to disrupt their work or business or a pleasure trip or pilgrimage, to come back to their home polling station on the election day to cast their vote. In the MARG model, there are no polling stations or election dates. Voters can redistribute their votes anytime and from anywhere, by going to an election office that is nearby or by using a smartphone app.
- In the current model, voters who happened to grow up in one state, but happened to migrate to another state because of marriage or job or business, have to come back to their home state to vote, or register themselves as voters in the new place. In the MARG model, there are no constituencies and hence the voters are not tied to any one place. They can be anywhere in the country and can distribute their votes to any candidates of their choice. They could choose to distribute a few votes to a candidate who hails from their native place and a few votes to another candidate who hails from the place of their residence. This allows them to keep an organic connection with their native places, i.e., with their roots.
- In the current model, there is no good solution for the nomadic tribes as they don't have a 'native place' or 'residential address' as all the others do. It is difficult for them to exercise their voting privilege. This is very easily solved in the MARG model, as anyone can cast their votes to any candidate from anywhere.
- In the current model, we do not have a good solution for Indian citizens who happen to be abroad for various reasons at the time of elections, to vote. The MARG model solves that problem also. The vote redistribution services can be added to all consulates abroad, along with all other consular services and they can be connected to the same computer systems in the back-end.
- In this model, with no elections as we know now, there would be no need to worry about one voter casting multiple votes or about that ink-mark on the index finger. Voters are uniquely identified by the election offices with a unique Voter Identification Card or with the Aadhaar card and the associated bio-metrics.
- Elections are like a gamble for candidates, in the current model. The incumbents are never sure about winning the next election. This propels them to 'make hay while the sun shines'. And those who are not in power sling mud on those who are, to discredit them. In the MARG model, leaders who can keep the trust of the voters consistently, and strive to adjust their behavior and improve their performance according to the voter's expectations, will be able to stay in power continuously for a long time, without having to go through an expensive and speculative ordial of reelection every five years.
- In the current model, a candidate who gets even one vote less than his immediate rival loses the election. This makes the elections very contentious and every candidate is forced to fight tooth and nail to snatch every single vote from the opponents. They resort to making false promises, taking populistic stances, appealing to the base emotions of voters, and so on. Even the conscientious and principled candidates are forced to resort to such techniques, once the others do so, if they want to win the election. In the MARG model, every candidate who can sustain a Minimum Trust Base will be in power, regardless of whether his/her Trust Base is a bit more or less than the other candidates. This model incentivizes candidates to focus on developing their base, rather than on outdoing the opponents in gaining every single possible vote, by hook or crook.
- In the current model, just a few votes are enough to push a bad leader, who uses all kinds of tricks and demagoguery, into power, and leave a good leader who is principled and straightforward by the wayside. This means the constituents have to not only put up with the bad leader but also lose the benefit of being served by a good leader for the next five years. In the MARG model, because of the concept of MTB, the chances are that both leaders would be in power, and the good leader can serve as the counterweight for the bad leader. In other words, we would have more good leaders in power, or at least enough to question the policies and actions of the bad leaders.
- In the current model, it is very difficult for candidates who are new or independent, or service-oriented rather than politics-oriented, to win an election, because it is difficult for them to get more votes than everyone else. In the MARG model, they could get in power if they can find a Trust Base that exceeds MTB.
- In the MARG model, voters can encourage new or independent candidates, by giving a couple of their votes to them. Voters can 'keep the old as well as try the new' leaders, by distributing some of their votes to the old and established leaders and some to the emerging and alternate leaders.
- Currently, the population distribution among constituencies is not even. Some constituencies have 1.5 to 2 times that of the population of some other constituencies. As a result, the representative of one constituency represents a large number of people, while another leader in another constituency represents only a small number of people. Neither of these situations is desirable. This problem would not get corrected until a census is taken and the boundaries of the constituencies are redrawn, which happens very rarely. In the MARG model, there would be no such need to redraw the boundaries as there are no constituencies and the Trust Base of a representative can be spread all over the country or state, and the leader would represent exactly as many voters as there are in his/her Trust Base.
- In the current model, voters who like a specific political party but not the candidate fielded by the party are in a bind. They have to vote either for a candidate they do not like or for a party they do not like. In the MARG model, the voter can give his/her votes to any candidate from anywhere fielded by the political party he/she likes. This is also good for the political parties, as it helps them retain all the loyal voters, by letting them choose from the multiple candidates fielded by the party.
- In the current model, many a candidate depend on the popularity of the party and the party chief to win the election. As a result, they have to sacrifice their individuality and integrity to fall in line with the party or party chief. In the MARG model, candidates can form their own Trust Base and depend on that base for survival in power, rather than on the party or the party chief. This allows them to exercise their independence in voting for or against any particular piece of legislation, based on their own principles. As a result, legislation will align more with the popular opinion rather than with the party or party chief's opinions. In fact, this forces the party and the party chief to pay attention to all their candidates' opinions, rather than to force their opinions on them.
- In the current model, a party that gets a few percentage points less in the popular vote may lose as much as ninety percent of the seats. In other words, though both parties may have about the same level of support among the public, one of them could be completely routed out of power. In the MARG model, with the minimum required votes criteria, both the parties would have representatives in proportion to their true support among the voters. No party will ever be rooted out of power and no party will ever dominate because of a few percentage of votes. This will promote balance and humility among the parties and will necessitate a healthy collaboration.
- If a representative switches his/her affiliation from one political party to the other, should he/she lose his/her position? There has been much debate, constitutional provisions and amendments, and supreme court rulings on this question, but without a satisfactory resolution. The MARG model answers this question elegantly, by letting the voters decide whether the switch is done for the right reasons or wrong reasons. If the voters feel that the switch is done for the wrong reasons, they can simply withdraw their votes to the particular leader.
- The current model is built on the premise that the winning candidates would be able to represent all the constituents equally, including those who did not vote for them. But human nature being what it is, this would only remain an ideal and a leader cannot be expected to serve those who voted for him and those who did not, in the same way. In the MARG model, the candidates represent only their Trust Base, not those who did not vote for them.
- In the current model, voters who did not vote for the winning candidate find it awkward to approach him/her for any need. In the MARG model, because of multiple votes, it is almost certain that at least one of their chosen candidates will be in power, and hence they would have at least one leader whom they can approach legitimately and without any awkwardness, for any need.
- In the current model, voters have to resort to media posts, online petitions, street demonstrations, and protests to express their displeasure or disapproval of the actions of leaders and to call for their resignation. This leads to violence and disruption of life, both for the protestors and for the general public. In the end, the protesters run out of energy and the protests die down. Plus, organizing such protests and demonstrations is not easy and hence actually most of the misdeeds of the leaders and the governments go unchallenged. In the MARG model, there is no need for any of such ineffective petitions, demonstrations, protests, or violence. Voters can simply and immediately remove the leaders, whose ethics or performance or attention to the issues become questionable, from power by redistributing their votes to other or new leaders. In other words, a sophisticated and inexpensive 'recall' process is built into the MARG model.
- In the current model, there is no good mechanism for the leaders to gain feedback on their performance from the voters. Opinion polls, approval ratings, etc., are neither reliable nor conducted regularly. Whereas in the MARG model, the changes in the size of the Trust Base serve as instant feedback to the leaders about their performance.
- In the current model, because the leaders are guaranteed power for five years, they can easily turn their backs on the voters, and it happens all the time. Leaders who are seen everywhere before the elections can become completely inaccessible to the voters after the elections. Leaders can promise one thing before the elections and pursue something else after the elections with impunity. The MARG model curtails this kind of behavior, as the voters can withdraw their support as soon as they see the leaders deviating from their promised policies and principles.
- In the current model, the winning candidate has to address all the issues of the constituency. This is not an easy task. The candidate may not have the knowledge or passion about each and every issue. As a consequence, issues, problems, ideas, dreams that pertain to only a small percentage of leaders would never find a champion. For example, consider the issues of handicapped people, or farmers, or people of any specific trade or craft. Similarly consider causes like green energy, clean environment, better education system and so on that only some voters are passionate about. Usually, there will be less than 10% of voters in each constituency who are passionate about each one of the specific issues or causes. They would not have enough majority to vote a leader who is passionate about the issues or causes into power. As a consequence, they have to beg a generic politician to represent these issues and causes, along with many others. In the MARG model, voters can vote for any leader from anywhere. That enables them to find a representative, from somewhere in the country/state who can be a champion for their causes or issues. This capability completely changes the way we think of politics and representation. The MARG model puts leaders with a focus on certain causes and issues in power, rather than just the generic politicians. Political parties are also be incentivized to field leaders focused on certain issues and causes, rather than just the generic politicians. Also, it is possible that some voters may care for more than one cause or have more than one issue. In such cases, they can distribute their ten votes to multiple candidates who are passionate about those specific issues or causes. This takes the concept of 'representation' to a whole new level.
- Consider the situation, where there is a bill that is good for the country/state as a whole but requires a certain sacrifice from the constituency. What is an MLA/MP supposed to do in that situation, in the current model? The Constitution assumes that the MLA/MP would focus on the interests of the state or country as a whole. But the voters assume that the MLA/MP would focus on the interests of the constituency. These two contradictory assumptions put any conscientious MLA/MP in a bind. In the current model, most MLAs and MPs align with the voters' assumptions, which results in regionalism. In the MARG model, there is no concept of constituencies, and hence this becomes a moot point. Every leader, by virtue of gaining votes from across the country/state, will be viewed as a country/state level leader and would be expected to focus on country/state level issues. The local issues should be and will be, anyway, addressed by local bodies like the zilla Parishads, municipal corporations, and the panchayat boards.
- One of the reasons for China's enormous progress in such a short period is the continuity of the Government. MARG model brings the same kind of continuity and stability, within the fold of Democracy. Currently, when the governments change every five years, many of the old programs get scrapped and foundation stone is laid for the new programs. Many government programs and initiatives may come to an abrupt end or meet with uncertainty every five years. A good part of the progress, if not all, made by the previous government is undone by the next government formed by a different political party. The next government doesn't want to continue the programs initiated by the previous government for the fear of the previous government getting the credit. Investments made till then by the previous government could simply go to waste. This is a loss of national resources and impedes national progress. In the MARG model, because there are no elections, there would be no such abrupt change of governments and hence no abrupt end to any program. Every program will take its natural course, either to evolve into something better and bigger or to peter out.
- In the current model, small, poor, and powerless communities hardly have any representation. To address this, in the current model, we reserve certain constituencies for SC, ST and women candidates. This is not a good solution because neither can the leader legitimately represent the majority communities of the specific constituency nor can he/she represent the minority community that lives in other constituencies. In the MARG model, minorities everywhere can elect leaders of their choice and the leaders can represent the minority community from all over the state/nation. Thus the MARG model provides a better solution than 'reserved constituencies', for the minority communities.
- In the current model, a candidate is allowed to contest from two constituencies, and if he/she wins both, he/she has to resign from one of the constituencies and a bye-election needs to be conducted. In this MARG model, there will be no constituencies, and hence someone contesting from more than one constituency becomes a moot point. Voters from two or more regions of the state/nation can vote for the same candidate if they so wish.
- By erasing the concept of Constituencies and by letting the Trust Base spread all over the country, the MARG model combines the characteristics of both houses of the Parliament/Assembly. It preserves the 'direct election' feature of the lower house and the permanency and trans-national or trans-state nature of the upper house. Hence with the MARG model, we can combine the two into one, simplifying the legislation process.
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The constitutional experts should weigh in and make recommendations to refine this model and to amend the constitution as needed to make this Modern Age Representational Governance a reality. And Parliament should make laws and amend the constitution as needed to adopt the MARG model. Otherwise, we will continue to live with the current archaic model and continue to suffer the consequences.
India has been at the forefront of adopting modern age technologies in many spheres of activity, be it in switching to LED lighting, renewable energies, mobile phones, or in providing better banking services, or in creating a national ID, which even the advanced countries are not able to do. India has also been the world leader in democratic practices since independence, by adopting such ideals as 'universal adult franchise', giving equal rights to women, oppressed castes, outlying tribes, and so on, from the get-go. India should continue that lead, by adopting the MARG model as soon as possible, and usher in a new era of sophisticated representational governance.
There is one question that is open in the design of this model. Suppose a leader's Trust Base size is twice or thrice the MTB. Should he/she be given two or three votes accordingly in the legislature? We need experts to weigh in.
Initial draft: January 26, 2021
Last updated: August 31, 2021
Author: Krishna Sharma (themarg.org/krishnasharma)
A mathematician by education, information systems architect by profession, philosopher by nature and a social reformer by passion.