24 June, 2024


India Ends Marathon In A Midsummer Of Elections

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

India has finally ended its election marathon last week. While the marathon went on, lasting seven phases and forty days, South Africa and Mexico started and finished their day long voting business. The European Union is having its elections over this weekend, followed by Britain in July. To complete what one might call a midsummer of elections. The US elections are always Fall elections and are due in November.

Political taxonomists are dividing the world into super states and small states. There are apparently four super states now – the US, China, India and the EU, republican successors to the old monarchical empires. Remarkably, this year is seeing elections in three of them. The elections to the European parliament are being watched for the rise of populist right wing parties in many member countries, which will have implications for national elections in different countries. Especially France.

In the US, it is still early to say who is bluffing whom: Donald Trump or his Democratic detractors. China is not a part of the democratic taxonomy and would like itself to be left alone to its own civilizational inclinations, as it likes to call them as part of its Global Civilizational Initiative. But others who have got accustomed to having elections have no real reason to change their ways. Democracy has imperfections but elections are not one of them.

Britain, France, and Germany are all former empires, now reduced to the status of small states. France and Germany are at least part of a super state, the European Union. Thanks to Brexit, Britain is no longer even part of a super state. The median population of small states, many of them offshoots of former empires, is identified as eight million. Sri Lanka at 22 million population is in the top half with Britain and other fallen empires for company.

Mexico and South Africa

With so many elections going on it is appropriate to provide a broad brush take on all or most of them, before going in some depth in any one of them. The Indian elections and results deserve more than a single piece of writing, insofar as writing is really an enjoyable form of learning. The elections in South Africa and Mexico lived up to their expectations. The two countries conducted both national and provincial/state elections concurrently on the same day. Both have presidential-parliamentary systems. Mexico elects its president directly by the people, while in South Africa it is the newly elected parliament that elects the president.    

The African National Congress (ANC) suffered its first setback in seven elections after the end of Apartheid. The 400 members of National Assembly are elected on a proportionate basis, and the ANC’s vote share dropped dramatically from 57% in 2019 to 40% now. The Incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC are now forced to look for coalition partners to continue his presidency and form the new government. The main opposition group led by the Democratic Alliance Party has expressed its willingness to join the ANC in forming a new government.

A rather perverse winner in the election is the discredited former President Jacob Zuma, who was ousted from office for corruption and replaced by Ramaphosa in 2018. He is now out for revenge and to out Ramaphosa. He launched a new party and cleverly named it the MK Party – after uMkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), the ANC’s para-military wing during Apartheid. The MK Party won a significant 15% of the vote and finished third in the election, ahead of the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Party at 9.5%.

Ironically, while the ANC is paying the price for Zuma’s presidential corruption, Zuma has regenerated himself as a political force based on his provincial popularity and vote share. The MK party won 70% of its 2.3 million national vote in a single province, KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s natal province. The ANC’s drop in vote share is really a split of the traditional vote base between the ANC and Zuma. The sharp drop in voter turnout, from 85% in the first election after Apartheid in 1994 to 58% now, is another reason and is indicative of the people’s disillusionment. 

The Mexican elections went as planned with the outgoing President Lopez Obrador’s anointed successor Claudia Sheinbaum winning by a significant margin (59% to 27%) over the opposition’s Xochitl Galvez. Ms. Sheinbaum becomes first female president in the Americas and winning an election in which the two front runners were women. She is widely expected to continue the policies of her predecessor in the centre-left government of Mexico’s Morena Party.

There is also curiosity arising from the professional background of Ms. Sheinbaum, who is of Jewish descent, as a Climate Scientist, and what it might mean for the regional and global politics of Climate Change. Mexico is the third member of the North American free trade agreement that includes the US and Canada. During his first term as President, Trump wanted to wreck the agreement. The then Mexican President Lopez Obrador, who had just won his first term election, and his Canadian counterpart Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had their work cut out in saving the agreement from Trump’s threatened abrogation. History might be repeating itself if Trump were to win the US presidency again in November.

Modi humbled in India

In India, Narendra Modi and the BJP have won their coveted third term, but the Indian voters have given them a bruising and qualified victory. The BJP pitched high to surpass the 400 mark that carried the threat of major constitutional changes. The voters without much help from the disarrayed opposition parties have stopped Modi and the BJP in their tracks. They gave the BJP’s NDA alliance less than 300 seats, 286 to be exact, a bare 14 more than the required majority. The BJP itself ended up with 240 seats, a steep fall from the 309 seats it won in 2019.

The BJP’s National Democratic Alliance owes its new and reduced to two regional parties from Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Twenty Eight of the NDA’s 286 seats belong to the Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh with 16 seats, and Bihar’s Janata Dal Party with 12 seats. The TDP and the JD have become king makers now, who are unlikely to support whatever plans the BJP may have had to overhaul India’s Constitution.

In a stunning setback, the BJP lost in the west, east, south, and most of all in the north – in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Remarkably, the losses in Uttar Pradesh include the BJP’s defeat in the Faizabad constituency where Ayodhya is located and where in January this year Narendra Modi triumphantly inaugurated the Ram Mandir temple that had been constructed over the vandalized ruins of a historic Mosque. This is not the end of Hindutva politics. But the huge secular symbolism in the verdict of a deeply religious electorate deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated.

The voters have also mobilized the disparate opposition parties of the INDIA alliance into a sizable force of 202 members in the Lok Sabha and added another 55 members who do not belong to either the governing NDA or the opposition INDIA alliances. The Congress Pary has shot up from 40 seats in 2019 to 99 seats and is now qualified to be the official Opposition Party. Rahul Gandhi is set to become the Leader of the Opposition and now has a chance to show his mettle against Modi whose cleverly cultivated aura has been punctured by the people. Elections and the voters do matter, and they can make a difference.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    … Democracy has imperfections but elections are not one of them.
    How much truth in the above statement … ?
    Is the statement applicable to every country or only to developed countries?
    Does Sri Lanka hold proof of this statement?

  • 1

    … The main opposition group led by the Democratic Alliance Party has expressed its willingness to join the ANC in forming a new government.
    Isn’t the willingness of the main opposition to join ANC a reflection of the imperfection of Democracy?

  • 1

    … Elections and the voters do matter, and they can make a difference.
    I wish that I would live to see the day Sri Lanka making that difference … !

  • 3

    Indian Prime Minister Modi has invited 6 neighboring leaders (Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Mauritius) for his swearing-in ceremony.
    Although Muisi recently moved closer to China, he came to the ceremony.
    I think all these countries have no life without Indian support. These countries are better dependent on India than China.

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