The Popular Mandate in Europe and India
This spring witnessed General Elections to the lower house of Parliament in India and elections to the European Parliament. These are two different kinds of elections in two different continents but there are similar patterns and trends in the electoral process and in the election results.
The electoral process
Europe and India have adopted the multi-party democratic system with parliamentary elections being conducted once in 5 years. In India, elections were held for 543 seats in all 29 federal states, while in Europe, elections were held in 751 seats in all 28 countries that constitute the European Union (EU). This year, the General Elections in India were held in seven phases spread out over a period of 39 days from 11th April to 19th May and the counting of votes was taken up on 23rd May with the results being declared by the end of the day.
In Europe, elections in all 28 countries were held country-wise over a period of four days from 23rd to 26th May. Unlike in India, the votes were counted as soon as the polls closed and the results were declared late at night or early morning on the next day.
India, with a population of 1.3 billion people, had a voting percentage of about 67 per cent, which was approximately 600 million votes cast out of the 900 million eligible voters. European Union countries have a population of 514 million and about 400 million eligible voters, out of which approximately 200 million people or 51.8 per cent eligible voters cast their vote in spite of voting being mandatory in some countries in the EU. Interestingly, EU uses ballot papers for their voting exercise in spite of being far more advanced than India in technology. India for the first time used Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) with Voter Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPAT) machines, which prints out the votes cast and displays it to the voter for a few seconds before dropping it into the machine. However, a sample of only 2 per cent of the VVPAT machines were tallied with the votes displayed in the EVMs during the counting process.
The electoral results
The 2019 election results were defining moments that will influence the future of Europe and India. For Europe, people were deciding on whether they believed in the idea of a common European identity with a single currency and a common Parliament deciding on issues pertaining to all EU countries or whether they believed in asserting their individual national identities. Brexit and the rise of right-wing parties in Europe was considered as a rallying point for those in EU countries who did not believe in the idea of a united Europe.
But the election results gave hope that the future of Europe is more secure in a United Europe than a divided one. Euro sceptic parties did improve their representation in the European Parliament but they did not fare as well as expected. Pro-European parties cornered the largest number of seats in the European Parliament and so the future of EU is secure for the next five years.
In India, the election was about whether the idea of India as a secular democratic republic was going to survive or not. The massive win of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), whether fair or foul, is an indication that right-wing politics with Hindu nationalistic agenda will continue for the next five years. The decimation of the opposition in the Indian political scenario is a huge threat to democracy in India as the country is heading towards a prolonged spell of one dominant party state, which is authoritarian having fascist tendencies.
The last five years of governance was a failure with a slowing economy, agrarian distress, high unemployment, and widespread violence against minorities. Therefore, the prospect of the Narendra Modi-led Government continuing in office is not a celebration in the country as a majority of the people, including minorities, indigenous peoples and other marginalised communities, are worried about the future of the country.
The mandate of the people has guaranteed the future of the European Union in spite of the rise in the representation of anti-Europe parties. On the other hand, the future of India as a secular democratic republic is threatened due to the popular mandate for right wing parties that seek to demolish the secular democratic ethos of the country to bring about an authoritarian and fascist Hindu nationalistic state.
Denzil Fernandes SJ,
Indian Social Institute