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Hung Parliament: Issues and Trends

Written By: Alipak Banerjee - KIIT Law School, 3rd Year, B.B.A.LL.B
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The oxford dictionary defines Hung Parliament as “parliament in which no party has clear majority”. In Parliamentary systems, a Hung Parliament or a minority government is one in which no one political party has an outright majority, and means the house is most commonly equally balanced. This situation is normal in many legislatures with proportional representation such as Germany or Italy, or in legislatures with strong regional parties. In majoritarian chambers with weak regional parties, it is a rarity, as in these circumstances one party will usually hold enough seats to form a majority. A Hung Parliament will force a coalition government, a minority government or dissolution of parliament. In general, a minority government tends to be less stable than a majority government, because the opposition can always bring down the government with a simple vote of no confidence. Also, it is often argued that a minority government is less accountable because the leader can dodge responsibility and shift blame to the opposition. However, a minority government tends to be less arrogant because it often requires compromise between the different parties to ensure the passage of legislation.

The problem with election in the modern era of democracy is that the regional parties are giving a tough challenge to the national parties in order to form a government, if we look at from the nations point of view, with special reference to India, the ninth Lok Sabha elections held in 1989 for the first time invoked the concept of hung Parliament or minority government in the country and ever since then the following elections which have taken place have had hung Parliaments.

In a hung Parliament seats are distributed amongst the national and regional parties and that no single party or for that matter a pre poll alliance is able to form the government. The condition is such that hung parliament in inevitable in next elections to come simply because all the national parties and breaking up into smaller units and forming regional parties resulting in votes are getting distributed. Hung parliament creates a political unrest in the country. Even the market prefers a stable government. Even if a coalition is formed after a hung parliament the government faces problem to make appropriate decision when it is required, the government is always in debate .The recent example of such political conflict arose regarding nuclear deal when UPA – Left Alliance prevailed. So the problem has a huge dimension and it is going to be even worse in years to come, but unfortunately we don’t have any statutes on this topic. Our constitution, which is the lengthiest constitution in the world but it, remains silent about hung parliament (elections are enumerated in article 324 – 329 of Indian constitution). The defence of the constitution makers can be that they didn’t have the far sight of such political scenario at that time because at that point congress was the only party prevailing. However things have changed with time and when we can have amendments so frequently, certainly having an amendment and inserting a clause, hereby providing a provision for hung parliament is the need of the hour.

Reasons for Hung Parliament

Changing colour of Regional Parties
If we analyze the election results of Lok Sabha from 1989 we will see that that with time the regional parties are going stronger in the national politics, this is resulting in hung Parliaments in the India. In 1989 general elections state or regional parties had 27 seats; in 1991 it increased to 51. 1996 elections saw a steady increase in number of seats on regional parties and they got 129 seats. In 1999 elections regional parties played a crucial role they landed up getting 158 seats. In 2004 Lok Sabha elections the regional parties got 159 seats. So hereby we can see how regional parties are playing a dominating role in the national politics and as a result of which the national parties are not being able to form the majority marks, even coalition with these regional parties doesn’t help at times. The year 2009 has proved all the arithmetic wrong when UPA alliance led by Indian National Congress almost reached the majority mark in the Lok Sabha on its own. Congress landed up getting 206 seats and the UPA with 262 seats fell short of 10 seats to reach the magic figure. Subsequently there has been a downward trend in number of seats won by regional parties.

Low turnout in the elections
Another factor which is the prime cause of hung parliament is that the election turnout percentage in the elections is very low. India has had an average turn out percentage of around 60 ever since independence in the past 15 Lok Sabha elections. If the turnout is so low and then with the regional parties growing in strength with each elections hung parliament is inevitable.

International Situation
Hung parliament is a common phenomenon is many countries. In countries like Canada the average tenure of the government is 1 yr and four month; most government over there doesn’t last for more that 2 yrs. In between 1963 and 1966 it has as many as 3 general elections. Well in Denmark 90% of the government formed since 1945 has resulted in hung Parliament. In Italy more than half the governments that have been formed are from hung Parliament. Norway, Sweden and most of the western European countries have had the history of hung Parliament. Germany has had hung parliament is the last three general elections (i.e. 1998, 2002, 2005).

Effect of Hung Parliament

Political instability
Hung Parliament leads to political instability in the country. The national party goes in search of regional partners to form the government. This is the point where the regional parties plays a very important role in the formation of the government, they bargain with the national parties for ministerial post once they join the government and this process goes on. There are exchanges of dialogues in the political scenario of the country. No one is sure about the future of the nation. This is the point where the people feel they have been deceived as the political parties try to adhere to unfair practices in getting the support from the regional parties.

Trade and Commerce
The trade and commerce again take a bad shape after hung parliament. A proper trade and commerce planning requires proper strategic planning and in the absence of a stable government there arises lacuna in the decision process. So the trade and commerce gets badly hit by hung parliament. In 2004 when the Lok Sabha election results were declared the stock market fell by 900 points thus indicating that the market prefers power to be in safe hands. Basically the corporate and the capital market prefer a stable government who can be there in power for the full tenure. In 2009 the results clearly indicated that the UPA under the leadership of Indian National Congress would form the government so the market reacted in a positive manner.

Minority Government
Although after hung Parliament a coalition comes to power yet no single party has the outright majority so we can term this sort of government as a minority government. In case of a minority government there lies lacuna in decision making. Minority governments in most cases are not allowed to exercise their power properly. There are under constant conflict with the opposition parties, so a minority government is a detriment to the nation. Minority government looks at the short term benefits of the nation, well in case of a government having outright majority they cater to 5 yr perspective. Unstable ruling coalition may spend indiscriminately in order to satisfy the short term needs of its support groups. This would result in high debts to the successors.

Trends
Hung Parliament is inevitable in next elections to come simply because all the national parties and breaking up into smaller units and forming regional parties resulting in votes getting distributed. Even now political analysts are that India will have Hung Parliaments in the near future inspiteof the fact that UPA alliance were inches away from forming the government on its own. We have to wait and watch the outcomes of the upcoming assembly elections in various states, if the parties manage to get the majority mark on their own or under a pre-poll alliance then it will be a great boon for our country.

Recommendation

Compulsory Voting

As I have mentioned earlier the poll turnout is very low in India, 60 out of 100 people turn out to vote on the day of election, time has come to retrospect into the matter and make voting compulsory and anyone who doesn’t vote should be penalized. Compulsory voting gives a chance to avoid hung Parliament in the next elections as more number of people voting gives a chance for majority government.

Bi - party System

In India we have many political parties, the Indian law states that any party having dominance in more than four states is to be called a national party. In the election machinery of our country both the national as well as the regional parties participate in the elections. Some analysts say that these are what that makes India the largest democracy in the world. But we can’t afford to have hung Parliaments and governments which doesn’t have majority of its own, so a probably solution to the problem can be to eliminate all regional parties and to have only 2 political parties at the centre who will contest election amongst themselves and hence forth there can be a solution to the problem of hung parliament.

The alternative vote
This procedure is followed in Australia, Brazil, and Portugal and so on, in this procedure the candidates are ranked in the order of preference. At the time of calculation of votes the candidate getting rank 1 is considered, in doing so if there isn`t any majority ( in case of a dispute ) then the candidates are considered based on how many people have given them rank 2, and the process moves on. This certainly is a good way of having a solution to hung Parliament.

Two ballot system

In the procedure two sets of election are held. In the first election the candidates getting the most number of votes (the best two) are chosen and then the nation votes amongst the best two candidates. In this procedure a solution is a must. This procedure is adopted by France where hung Parliament was a regular phenomenon earlier but things have changed after the inception of this method of voting. In India too we can have the same. My critics might argue that there will be too many expenses in having two elections in a short span of time; well my answer to them will be there has to be a choice between expenses incurred and having a democratic set up where in, the government formed has an outright majority in the house.

Post election coalition should not be allowed.
In India the general phenomenon is that after elections the regional parties switch their alliances in order to strive for power, the national parties’ gives in to the bargain of these regional parties and tries to form government. So post election coalition should not be termed as illegal. If post election coalitions are not allowed then the political parties will be responsible enough is forming a proper pre election coalition and this can yield a result to the problem of hung parliament.

Anti defection law should be stringent

10th schedule of Indian constitution deal with anti defection law. The law of the land (Indian Constitution) allows members of political parties to change their parties in case one third of the elected members of that party in any assemble decide to split from the party. In case of merger two third is the margin required for merger of political parties. The speaker is the ultimate authority in deciding cases pertaining to members splitting or merging with other political parties.

Change in Law
There should be a change in the law which empowers the opposition party to bring no confidence motion in the house. In India a no confidence motion can be brought by any party and once the speaker approves it voting takes place. If the ruling party fails in the trust vote then there is a fresh election. Well in countries like Germany, Spain, Italy the scenario is different. Over there no confidence motions are brought keeping a successor in hand so that incase, the ruling government fails in the trust vote the person who was appointed as successor takes the office till the tenure of the office. This procedure can avoid a fresh election.

Ngo, government should launch campaign to educate voters.


The NGOs can help the country in avoiding a hung parliament. They can bring a consensus amongst the people that all should vote, they can make the voters aware of their rights of adult franchise.

The author can be reached at: alipak@legalserviceindia.com / ph: +09937081242
Added Date: 11 Sep 2009
 

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