Presidential System of Government
The parliamentary system devised in Britain – a small island nation with electorates of less than a lakh voters per constituency — is based on traditions which simply do not exist in India. These involve clearly defined political parties, each with a coherent set of policies and preferences that distinguish it from the next, whereas in India a party is all-too-often a label of convenience which a politician adopts and discards as per his/her choice.
What are the issues with parliamentary system in India?
- Our parliamentary system has created a unique breed of legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only in order to wield executive power.
- It has produced governments dependent on a fickle legislative majority, who are therefore obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance.
- It has distorted the voting preferences of an electorate that knows which individuals it wants to vote for but not necessarily which parties.
- It has spawned parties that are shifting alliances of selfish individual interests, not vehicles of coherent sets of ideas.
- It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office, and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions. The parliamentary system has failed us.
- In the absence of a real party system, the voter chooses not between parties but between individuals, usually on the basis of their caste, their public image or other personal qualities.
Impact on governance
- The fact that the principal reason for entering Parliament is to attain governmental office creates four specific problems.
- First, it limits executive posts to those who are electable rather than to those who are able. The Prime Minister cannot appoint a cabinet of his choice; he has to cater to the wishes of the political leaders of several parties.
- Second, it puts a premium on defections and horse-trading. The anti-defection Act of 1985 has failed to cure the problem, since the bargaining has shifted to getting enough MLAs to resign to topple a government, while promising them offices when they win the subsequent by-elections.
- Third, legislation suffers. Most laws are drafted by the executive — in practice by the bureaucracy — and parliamentary input into their formulation and passage is minimal, with very many bills being passed after barely a few minutes of debate. The parliamentary system does not permit the existence of a legislature distinct from the executive, applying its collective mind freely to the nation’s laws. Accountability of the government to the people, through their elected representatives, is weakened.
- Fourth, for those parties who do not get into government and who realise that the outcome of most votes is a foregone conclusion, Parliament or Assembly serves not as a solemn deliberative body, but as a theatre for the demonstration of their power to disrupt. In India’s Parliament, many opposition members feel that the best way to show the strength of their feelings is to disrupt law-making rather than debate the law.
Why India must have a presidential system of government?
- We must have a system of democracy whose leaders can focus on governance rather than on staying in power. Holding the executive hostage to the agendas of a motley bunch of legislators is nothing but a recipe for governmental instability. And instability is precisely what India, with its critical economic and social challenges, cannot afford.
- A directly elected President, instead of being vulnerable to the shifting sands of coalition support politics, would have stability of tenure free from legislative whim, be able to appoint a cabinet of talents, and above all, be able to devote his or her energies to governance, and not just to government.
- The Indian voter will be able to vote directly for the individual he or she wants to be ruled by, and the president will truly be able to claim to speak for a majority of Indians rather than a majority of MPs.
- At the end of a fixed period of time, the public would be able to judge the individual on performance in improving the lives of Indians, rather than on political skill at keeping a government in office.
- The only serious objection advanced by liberal democrats is that the presidential system carries with it the risk of dictatorship. They conjure up the image of an imperious president, immune to parliamentary defeat and impervious to public opinion, ruling the country by fiat.
- However, the powers of a President can be amply balanced by those of the directly elected chief executives in the states, who would be immune to dismissal by their party leader, or to toppling by defecting MLAs.
- With the needs and challenges of one-sixth of humanity before our leaders, we must have a democracy that delivers progress to our people. Changing to a presidential system is the best way of ensuring a democracy that works.