Debate No. 2: Should India move to a Presidential Form of Govt. (like in the US)?


With elections due in 2014, world’s biggest democracy India will vote for a new govt. Congress is feeling the heat because of corruption, price rise. BJP is projecting Modi, who many see as a polarizing figure. Regional stalwarts Mulayam, Maya, Mamata, Amma, Nitish are also day dreaming to become PM. As things stand now, it is highly unlikely that any political party or formation will get majority. A fractured mandate will result in uncertainty at a time when the country needs decisive governance.

It’s apt time to debate whether India should abandon the Westminster (President + Prime Minister) form of government and shift to the Presidential system. When you compare two systems: one that provides clarity to the voters about who they are electing to be their leader and what their policies are, against the second where confusion reigns supreme, which one would you prefer? Not an easy answer.

In India, public elects candidates to represent their constituency in Parliament called Members of Parliament (MP). MPs of the party which gets majority select their leader who then goes on to become PM. So, public doesn’t have any control / choice over who will be the PM. India was ruled by British who had the Westminster model and hence India also adopted the same.

Of course the system worked well during 1950 to late 1980s when Congress was the dominant party and people clearly voted for mostly the Nehru Gandhi family who were clear favorites to become PM. With the decline of the Congress, country has seen many PMs like VP Singh, Chandrasekhar, N. Rao, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral, Vajpayee and now MMSingh. Out of these, people clearly didn’t vote for Chandra, Rao, Gowda, Gujral and MMS as PM. PM is then essentially thrust upon the people by the elected representatives due to party politics, coalition compulsions etc. Some of them didn’t deserve to be PMs.

Traditionally, there are three major criticisms of the presidential form of government:

CRITICISM

MITIGANT

The President can assume dictatorial powers.

 

Not really. There are definite checks and balances in the Presidential system.

The Executive (President + Council of Ministers) is not responsible to the directly elected legislature.

Accountability to Parliament does not necessarily help Executive perform better. As a matter of fact, we have seen that many decisions like allowing FDI in retail were held up in India as the Executive has become a hostage of Parliament.

If the President belongs to one party and the legislature is controlled by another party, it can lead to conflict and paralysis. Like the one seen in US shutdown recently.

Even if the government has a majority in the house, paralysis can still prevail. As witnessed in the last year in India in Parliamentary proceedings.

 The votaries of Presidential form of govt. say that its benefits far outweigh the shortcomings.

  1. It will force political parties to be more democratic. All political parties will have to choose their best candidates for President post as there will be a direct head-to-head contest. There will be no alternate power centers and no remote controls (as currently in India). 
  2. Voters will get to know their Presidential candidates intimately. There could be debates between key contestants and people will get to know their view points on a range of issues facing the country. The electorate will also have enough data to take calls on their candidates.
  3. The President will be fully in charge of the executive. He will be able to attract the best and brightest talent irrespective of their political affiliations. He won’t have to fix quotas for allies or give important positions to senior but incompetent leaders.
  4. The govt. will be stable. The President will be elected by the people and will be voted out by them. He will not have to appease unreasonable allies and indulge in compromises all the time.
  5. The legislature will be free to do its work. The job of parliament is to pass laws. But opposition law-makers in India have begun to believe their duty is to bring down the govt. Even allies keep on pushing govt. to bargain for more goodies. Once that power is taken away from them, it will bring them back to their primary task of discussing bills and passing laws that will improve the lot of the people.
  6. It will truly engage the electorate with the democratic process. Think of a presidential election between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. These will be high-voltage, riveting contests.
  7. The same would also not be detrimental to new parties who have been recently formed but have great capable / honest leaders. Like say Arvind Kejriwal could become CM of Delhi even if his party Aam Aadmi Party does not get majority in Delhi assembly (example illustrative and assuming if the presidential form is applicable even to states).  

Many would argue that BJP actually this time is fighting the Presidential way while Congress by not declaring their PM candidate is fighting in the old traditional style. If they win, party MPs will decide who will be their PM. Or is it Sonia who will decide? 

Is it the correct time to abolish the ceremonial Presidential post and inaugurate a real one? What do you guys feel? Your thoughts please…..

 

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