Election crystal gazing
By 3pm this afternoon, the fates of all candidates in contention in the election to the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly will have been sealed in the digital memories of electronic voting machines, EVMs. As to which of the contending candidates have made the grade to be legislator for the next five year, and which political party has been given the mandate to form the next government, will however be known only on March 11, the date of the vote counting. Whatever prediction people have of the final outcome, at this moment, are mere speculations and can go completely wrong. It does however seem it will be a very close fight between the ruling Congress and the challenger BJP. The campaign planks of both these parties have been different and their differing strategies have individual advantages and disadvantages, but until March 11, nothing can be said for certain as to which strategy pays. One thing however is certain. It has been hard and ruthless campaigning, with each party not only canvassing on their own strength, but seeking to take advantage of what they project as each other’s failings. Their campaigns actually got nasty as it reached a peak on the first phase polling on March 4. The BJP in particular stepped into the territory of illegality, as reported widely in the newspapers today, when the party contravened not just the norms of public propriety but also the set standards of the Election Commission of India, ECI, getting eight editors into unfair and unnecessary legal entangles. To recapitulate very briefly, the party released two full page colour advertisements, one for the polling day and another for the day before, to all major newspapers in Imphal. As per the Election Office’s restrictions announced on February 25, election advertisements on these two days can only be published after vetting by the Election Office’s Media Certification and Monitoring Committee, MCMC. The BJP got the content for two full page advertisements cleared by the MCMC and sent what are purportedly these certified matters to the press along with the certification documents. After they were published, it has now come to light that the matter the BJP sent to the press for publication on March 3 had been swapped with one which the MCMC had not vetted. The uncertified matter however came with the MCMC certificate for the original. The said unscreened advertisement, under the screaming headline of “15 years of Loot”, castigated the Congress for its alleged misrule and plunder of public property during their three terms. Now the Election Office has filed FIRs against the editors of eight newspapers for publishing these advertisements uncertified by the MCMC, although the MCMC never gave a prior alert to the media which advertisements had been certified for publication so that the latter could have avoided publishing anything not in the list.
Ugly though the development was, be it as it is for the time being. We want instead to go into the issue of “electoral mandate” and how accurately they reflect the “peoples’ mandate”. The electoral system we follow is what is generally referred to “first past the post”, where party fortunes depend on the victory of individual candidates. This is unlike the “proportional representation” system, where the total number of votes polled determines the fate of the parties. Let us consider the popular predictions as of today. The most heard of verdict is, it will be a close call between the Congress and the BJP, with some saying Congress will have a slight edge and other saying the BJP will be the one with the edge. In other words, in terms of popular votes polled, the two parties will have more or less the same number. But in the “first past the post” system, even if the two parties poll more or less the same number of votes, in terms of seats won, it can be a landslide victory of one. Supposing in a hypothetical situation, in each of the 60 constituencies, Party-A beats Party-B by just one vote, it would be landslide victory for Party-A but in terms popular votes, it will be ahead of Party-B by just 60 votes, which is far from a landslide victory, and in a “proportional representation” system, it would have been considered as a hopelessly hung verdict. There are different variations of these systems and sometimes they are used in combination to suit the needs of each country and to ensure the votes reflect the mandate of the people closest. None can be perfect and their flaws will occasionally become pronounced, whatever way they are adopted. In the recent US Presidential elections for instance, we all saw how although Hillary Clinton won nearly 3 million more popular votes, Donald Trump was the ultimate victor because he won more Electoral College votes. The truth is, on March 11, there will be a victor by the “first by the post” system, but it is unlikely the margin in popular votes will be large. Under the circumstance, whichever party comes out on top, let it be humble enough to acknowledge that a sizeable section of the voters chose their rivals but their decision was silenced by the system we follow.