Our political industry needs change

By Lawrence Pherliam Sumer

“Majority of the voters cling to their own beliefs, facts and assumptions and what’s more, in a close knit society like ours, where everyone is a relative of everyone, a voter is compelled to lean towards a “relative politician” irrespective of his or her credentials.”

We have always been hypocritical about the dearth of talent in our political system and that just seems to confirm with each electoral process. A democratic setup like ours seems to have failed in producing competent leaders and instead the abundance of inept and dishonest political leaders is the order of the day. Such leaders exploit people’s credulity and prejudices and always thrive on emotion-driven discourses. With every electoral college, Democracy seems to have failed to deliver us leaders of character. In fact, public distrust of democracy is at its highest, with so much corruption at stake. A 27 countries Pew Survey (April 2019) revealed that a majority (51%) are dissatisfied with the way democracy is working. Most people nowadays find authoritarian figures more trustworthy than democratically-elected politicians, hence, the rise of pseudo cult personalities at the helm of the world’s largest democratic country in the world. Bottom line, elections don’t deliver the kind of political leaders people want. After a honeymoon period between voters and their winning candidate, often as short as a month, he or she always disappoints. Why? Is it the fault of the voters, for expecting too much? Or don’t they understand what is going on – how complex the job of governing can be, how campaign promises can’t be kept?
It takes two hands to clap; on one hand the voters generally favour policies that enhance their own well-being with little or no consideration for the future generation or long-term outcomes. We tend to live for the “now” rather than allowing ourselves just that little discomfort for a better future ahead. We would rather sell our souls for a few hundred rupees than make our would-be politicians work to earn our votes. On the other hand, politicians who manage to pander to these “immediate needs and desires,” of the voters are rewarded and because democratic systems encourage such short-termism, it will be seemingly difficult to solve the intractable structural issues that slow down our economic growth, unless we choose to overhaul our democratic process, altogether. Winston Churchill once said that: “democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.” His cynicism was perhaps justified after the British people voted him out from his position as Prime Minister within months of winning the Second World War.
There are few obstacles to good governance that can be highlighted here. First, we have too many elections and such frequent polls taint policy-making, as politicians are driven by the rational desire to win elections, therefore, opt for quick fixes that will undermine long term growth. Secondly, elections have always involved “money;” in essence, the need to spend, apart from the slab as laid down by the Election Commission. This in turn, encourages politicians to respond more towards their funders instead of their voters. Hence, after the elections are done and dusted, this shall result
in the 1% governing the 99%. Thirdly, the ignorance and misinformed electorates does not help the cause. Majority of the voters cling to their own beliefs, facts and assumptions and what’s more, in a close knit society like ours, where everyone is a relative of everyone, a voter is compelled to lean towards a “relative politician” irrespective of his or her credentials. It is sad to see electorates still buy into a quote that, “in my advancement will your advancement be.” Come on, if at the very start of your innings you are made to understand about putting your own priorities’ first before the people, then we are in for a dark future indeed. What is politics after all? Isn’t it about servanthood? It’s about putting the cause of the masses first, at least from where you are elected before your own.
Fourthly, incompetent individuals with no political gifting enter the fray, anyways. There are no requirements for running for office, none at all; anyone can wake up in the morning and decide he or she wants to contest the elections. Lastly, and the most dangerous one is an attempt by all political parties to turn this profession into a fully professionalised political class, wherein, candidates ought to have a political experience or must come from a political family of sorts. Political parties are exhibiting stunningly little outside non-political experience, thereby churning out a politics industry.
In order to overcome some of these obstacles and keep away incompetent individuals from choosing this as their preferred occupation, there has to be a way to test the character of those in the fray. An entry into the political arena must not be easy. Those who want to serve must be scrutinised as much by the people of their constituency, as their papers are being scrutinised by the district administration while filing for candidature. The electorates have the right to know who amongst their candidates has the knowledge and the capability to lead them forward. The media here has a big role in bringing about a change. Prior to elections, big media houses, and their celebrity editors who have been very articulate against corruption, must initiate debates, not just mere debates through newspapers but more importantly live debates amongst the candidates concerned. Questions must be asked about the challenges of their respective constituencies, besides illiteracy, unemployment indices etc., must be placed before these would-be politicians. Further, questions must be encouraged from the electorates themselves. Let us not forget, these debates must be conducted with the sole aim to provide information to the electorates of a particular constituency and give them ample opportunity to think before making that 5- year investment.
It is important to test the candidates’ knowledge about policy matters, as we are all aware that most of the candidates in the fray are not even aware of what a policy is. It is a different matter altogether, if we can bring these candidates to such platforms, but what matters is the attempt from the media to contribute their bit. As electors, we cannot be swayed by assumptions alone; we need to get a fair bit of knowledge about those we wish to choose to be our representatives and who else can provide us that window of opportunity other than the fourth most important pillar of society. Secondly, we need accountability from these elected representatives. We cannot expect such initiatives from them though, but here is where the responsible civil societies can step in. It is one thing to fight against government policies but a better thing to demand a Performance Report Card from the elected representatives. A simple report card of how much of the MLA/MP Scheme has been used for the welfare of the constituents will do for a start and such reports must be given front page importance for everyone to see and assess for themselves.
Lastly, the Election Commission must do more in restricting “money power” which in most cases influences the outcome of an election result. The law does prescribe about the total election expenditure but actual expense by the candidates at the ground level differs entirely. Or must I say, directing politicians to comply with such rule of law is easy but implementing it has always been a challenge. Yes, lately, the Commission has played its part in encouraging eligible voters to vote, but the same has not really translated into numbers. Hence, there may come a point in time to make the whole electoral process a mandatory exercise for every citizen. If we are allowed to use the Voter ID as a residential document proof, then why can’t it be made mandatory for such a noble purpose for which it has been issued for? Nevertheless, every political mishap is firstly a result of our inexcusable non-participation. If this political industry needs change, then such rational change must come forth, else, vocalising it is like sitting on a rocking chair, that gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.

“An entry into the political arena must not be easy. Those who want to serve must be scrutinised as much by the people of their constituency, as their papers are being scrutinised by the district administration while filing for candidature.”

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