Friday, April 17, 2009

Musings on India's fascinating election


What a remarkable thing this Indian election is for its scale and complexity. Two stories will bring this out: Election 2009 seems like 543 mini elections and India: The world's most remarkable election. My thanks to Ramana for the link to the second. By the way, Ramana, I chuckled at your post  Why Do Men Wear Earrings?.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to run in an election campaign where 543 members represented 714 million registered voters. That's 1.3 million or so voters per MP. Say 3 MPs for Sydney, 5 or 6 for NSW. With looser party affiliations and a much wider political spectrum than, say, Australia, there is a personalised and indeed localised element to campaigns now rarely found in Australia.

While Indians and indeed many Australians may disagree, this is not necessarily a bad thing. I miss the colour and variety associated with past elections in this country. Modern Australian elections are narrowly stylised, professionalised. We vote for a diminished range of people in a process dominated by shopping lists and marginal seat campaigning.

I suspect that many of Australia's past leaders at State and federal level could not be elected today or, if elected, would quickly loose their seats.

Sir Henry Parkes who created the NSW public education had such financial problems that public appeals for donations were required to prevent bankruptcy. John Curtin drank far too much for his own good, a not uncommon problem. The NSW Parliament was famous for its sometimes drunken early morning debates. William Morris Hughes, while a great stump orator, would have been far too untelegenic for today's world. The list goes on.

Train drivers, shop keepers, miners, farmers, teachers - a representative slice of the community - have been replaced by lawyers, union officials, ministerial staffers. There were always lawyers or former union officials, for example, in Parliament. It's just that the slice of Australia from which we select our representatives has become narrower, our expectations about behaviour narrower, our expectations about real performance less.

There were much closer relationships in the past between MPs and their electorates than is the case today, even in city areas where personal relations are more difficult. This is partially a matter of size - each MP represents a larger number of people. However, it's also linked in a complicated way to the rise of the power of Executive Government with its commensurate decline in the influence and prominence of the backbenchers.

With exceptions - country Australia is still different - our MPs have simply become less important to their electorates. It has become much harder to make a local difference.  

1 comment:

rummuser said...

Jim, you have got to see the sequel to the earring piece!