Read the english translation of the same below:
The country is now agog with the ongoing elections. Animated discussions have become the norm – whether it is in street corners or in drawing rooms. Amidst all this noise and drama and the debates around substantial and trivial issues, one is left wondering whether democracy has failed the people or whether the people have failed democracy.
We only need to look around us at different countries including India to understand the state of democracy today. The United States of America with its issues revolving around the electoral college votes and the alleged interference of its election system by outside forces, or the state of democracy in Russia where one shifts between being the Prime Minister and President, or the sorry state of affairs in Algeria, to the so called democracy in Turkey, to current issues dogging democracy in Israel to the failure of democracy in England; we have seen different dimensions of the failure of democracy in its current form and practice.
If this is the state of affairs and with the world moving towards increasing polarisation and the myth of the strong leader, can democracy truly exist and function? With electoral democracies being captured by powerful forces and voices, is the concept of the ‘will of the people’ even relevant today. Our own backyard has repeatedly demonstrated that one needs huge amounts of money, muscle power and dynastic connections to survive in the electoral heat and dust of India. Are there any other models that may be relevant and useful to consider? We need to ask these questions especially in the context of organisations like Cambridge Analytica and others who used machine learning and AI to not just predict voting behaviours but to shape them itself. With the general disbelief that democracy will work in providing effective and efficient governance, is it now time to explore alternatives like ‘Sortition’ instead of the current system of elections?
It was Aristotle who several centuries ago mentioned, “It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.” Rousseau echoed similar thoughts when he said, “It will be seen why the drawing of lots is more in the nature of democracy. In an Aristocracy, voting is more appropriate.” It is this concept of ‘drawing lots’ that led to the idea of ‘Sortition based elections’ and has been practiced in several different countries and in different situations. Essentially, Sortition is the process of choosing law makers by controlled lottery. It has been done in places In places like Florence, USA (for Juries), Northern Italy, Venice and Switzerland. In fact, Athens from where the modern practice of Democracy is said to have originated considered ‘Sortition’ as more democratic than elections. Athenian democracy developed in the 6th century BC out of what was then called ‘isonomia’ (equality of law and political rights). Sortition was then the principal way of achieving this fairness. It was utilized to pick most of the magistrates for their governing committees, and for their juries (typically of 501 men). They believed sortition to be democratic but not elections and used complex procedures with purpose-built allotment machines (kleroteria) to avoid the corrupt practices used by oligarchs to buy their way into office. According to the author Mogens Herman Hansen the citizen’s court was superior to the assembly because the allotted members swore an oath which ordinary citizens in the assembly did not and therefore the court could annul the decisions of the assembly. The magistracies assigned by lot generally had terms of service of one year. A citizen could not hold any particular magistracy more than once in his lifetime, but could hold other magistracies. All male citizens over 30 years of age, who were not disenfranchised were eligible. Those selected underwent a test to ascertain their capacity of exercising public rights and duties in order to avoid incompetent officials. Magistrates, once in place, were subjected to constant monitoring by the Assembly. Magistrates appointed by lot had to render account of their time in office upon their demitting it. However, any citizen could request the suspension of a magistrate with due reason before the end of their term.
When Sortition (or Demcarchy as it is also known) is undertaken in the selection of political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates, it can ensure that all competent and interested parties have an equal chance of holding public office, unlike today where the barriers to entry virtually eliminates serious and competent people from contesting. It also minimizes factionalism, since there would be no point making promises to win over key constituencies if one was to be chosen by lot, while elections, by contrast, fosters it.? It is rumoured that candidates will be spending anywhere between INR 20-100 crores in each of the parliamentary constituencies in the ongoing elections and much of it will be to influence voters. This is apart from the extravagant and sometimes unachievable promises that major political parties are dishing out in their manifestos.
While Sortition does have several advantages including getting competent and honest people into the system and in reducing corruption in public office, it does sound difficult to consider and implement. Successful experiments are being done in Ireland and requires detailed study. In our own country, similar experiment has been done by residents of Uttiramerur Panchyath in Tamil Nadu. They used a system known as ‘koda-olai’ (leaves in a pot) where the names of candidates for the village committee were written on palm leaves and put into a pot and pulled out by a child. With growing disenchantment with the current electoral system, with elite capture of power being a reality and crony capitalism a way of life in Indian politics; the day is not far away for Sortition to be seriously considered as an instrument of democracy and governance.