Dr. Susmit Kumar

A properly constituted democracy should have four compartments of government—a legislature, executive, judiciary, and public exchequer, or treasury—and each of them should be independent from one another. To strengthen their legitimacy, certain reforms need to be undertaken.

The democratic system allows elected officials from one party to comprise more than 50 percent of the officeholders even though the number of votes secured by their party may be less than 50 percent. In such a condition, their party is sometimes said to form a majority, but in reality it is government by a minority. Moreover, since governments are formed by particular parties, the opinion of other parties may not be respected in the legislature. Though all parties participate in passing legislation, bills may be passed according to the wishes of the party that is in the majority. When this occurs, that party often derives benefit from the enacted law while the people at large may derive little benefit at all.

In democracy as it is now practiced, securing the highest number of votes is proof of a person’s qualification to hold office in most countries. However, this qualification is not adequately examined in all cases. In my opinion, the popularity of a candidate securing the highest number of votes needs to be tested again if he or she polls less than half the total number of votes cast. In this test, arrangements will have to be made so that people can vote either for or against the candidate in a second vote. If the candidate polls more favorable than unfavorable votes, only then should he or she be declared elected.

Nor should a candidate be elected without a contest. In some Third World countries, wealthy and influential people can sometimes compel other candidates, by financial inducements or intimidation, to withdraw their nomination papers. So in cases where only one candidate is running, that candidate’s popularity will have to be tested. If he or she fails the test, the candidate and all those who withdrew their nomination papers will forfeit the right to contest the subsequent by-election for that constituency and will have to wait until the next election to run again.

The manner in which the civil service is selected is also important, so that government can run well. In the U.S., the majority of public service jobs on the federal, state, and local levels are awarded on the basis of the spoils system; after winning an election, the party in power dispenses public service positions to donors and campaign workers, awarding posts as if they were rewards for political battle. This contrasts with the merit system, under which jobs are awarded on the basis of ability, irrespective of a candidate’s party affiliation. Federal appointments had been made according to merit before 1829, but this changed when President Jackson started the spoils system to reward his supporters. The process in India, to compare, is quite different, and might prove instructive. Even though poverty and political corruption are widespread, the country does maintain a few jewels in polished condition, and the civil service is one of them. There, civil service candidates undergo a year-long examination at more than 30 different locations to select about 500 top-level bureaucrats. This is done on an annual basis, and more than 300,000 candidates between 21 and 27 years of age contend for the few positions available. Once they are selected, they represent the executive branch of the Indian government and hold all top government jobs. This attracts the best brains of India to the executive branch. If they were not subject to corrupt politicians, the government might run well. Victorious parties in American elections, once again, are, however, allowed to nominate anyone they choose. This results in major donors and party members being nominated to posts for which they often lack any experience at all, because of which the nation sometimes has to pay dearly. As discussed above, when hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, FEMA was unable to do anything, largely because five of its eight top officials had no experience in handling disasters. Although for major executive posts Senate confirmation is required, the president can bypass this process by nominating a person for one year during Senate recesses. Prout prefers the merit system for the executive branch.

According to Prout, to provide a fearless and independent character to the administration, the executive branch or secretariat should be kept free from pressures from the cabinet. The executive branch should run by experts in their respective fields; for example, the department of health should be run by a group of eminent health experts, not staff choices dictated by someone nominated by the legislature. The cabinet should confine itself to legislation, passage of the budget, the implementation of its plans and policies, defense, etc. The power of ministers should remain confined to the parliament, and they should refrain from poking their nose into the workings of the executive branch. The chief secretary or the head of the entire executive branches should not be subordinate to the president or prime minister, and should act independently as the executive head. All the secretaries should work under the chief secretary. A secretary is head of an executive department. Free from cabinet pressures, every department will serve the people well.

Prout also supports the independence of the judiciary. In the present system, judges are either elected along party lines or selected by elected officials like the governor or president in the U.S. In the Bush victory in the 2000 presidential elections, ultimately decided by the narrow, 5-4 Supreme Court decision in the Florida ballot case, the majority decision was written by conservative judges. Late night talk show hosts joked that the Court had selected the president, and now the president would select it. Judges should abstain from fighting elections along party lines, however, because the judiciary should be above party politics, i.e., impartial. And for the nomination of judges to higher courts, a committee of experts, consisting of distinguished lawyers and members of the Supreme Court, needs to be consulted, and will have veto power over judicial nominees. If people fail to keep this issue under close scrutiny, justice will give way to injustice.

Finally, for the proper utilization of the treasury, or public exchequer, the independence of the audit department too is a must. Only an independent audit department can keep proper accounts of every department. The auditor general should be independent of president or prime minister.

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