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08 May, 2009

A stable government from a hung Parliament

Dr. Satinath Choudhary

Under our current system of forming government from winning party or coalition, undesirable give and take start right from the beginning. Even when there is a clear-cut leader as the new Prime Minister (PM) of a party with clear-cut absolute majority, s/he has to distribute government’s departments to leaders of various factions of his or her party, primarily on the basis of factors like how many MPs support him or her, or his/her seniority, or his or her loyalty or sycophancy or relationship to the PM designate or one of the political bosses. Expertise of the MPs comes into consideration last, if at all. When the new PM emerges from “negotiations” among the leading factions of the party with absolute majority or from negotiations among leaders of a winning coalition, “quid pro quo” also enters into the process of making new government as one of the prime factors mentioned above. Even the qualifications of most of the IAS officers at the top of various departments are generally not really well matched against the requirements of those departments, as they are not chosen on the basis of their expertise. They all seem to function more or less as highly paid clerks pushing files, without really much of understanding or attachment to the subject matter they are dealing with. It should not be surprising why we continue to languish as one of poorest countries in the world.

In this regard it will be better to emulate the US system of appointments made by the elected executives. Even without proper or the best electoral system, people with integrity and dedication appear to be known and recognized as such in various regions. It will be too difficult for the “top executive(s)” to assemble a suitable mix of experts, well balanced in gender, social and regional segments, with integrity and dedication appropriately matched against requirements of various departments. For this purpose they may be given a couple of months like the US designate gets for searching and vetting suitable candidates for all positions. They should be able to find such people from the pool of retired or active IAS, IPS, IFS officers, academia, NGOs, engineers, doctors, lawyers, social workers, business people or persons engaged in private sector enterprise, no matter what field they have excelled in. There is a crying need to match people with proven expertise, experience, integrity, dedication and ability with requirements of various positions in governance of the country.

As for the top executive position, it will be better to follow the Swiss example of leadership of the government provided by a “collective of equals” rather than a single individual or a pyramidal structure with one sitting at the top. In Switzerland their National Assembly elects a group of seven individuals as members of their Federal Executive Council (FEC), with equal power vested in all of them, as described underneath. (By the way, experts in group interaction suggest a size of 5-12 for efficiency and diversity of opinions.) The FEC has a rotating chair, picked every year on the basis of seniority. However, the Chair (who doubles as Chancellor of the country) is not supposed to have any more power than others, except for the privilege of chairing their meetings and representing the country in the international arena. The FEC is elected, subject to two kinds of proportionality: (1) wrt (with respect to) linguistic demography of the country and (2) wrt party strength.

In keeping with the proportionality wrt linguistic demography, they allocate one out of the seven FEC seats (accounting of 14% of FEC’s share of power) to an MP (member of parliament) with Italian mother tongue (who constitute about 4% of the Swiss citizen); they allocate two out of the seven FEC seats (accounting for 28%) to MPs with French mother tongue (who constitute about 20% of the Swiss population); and they allocate the remaining four out of seven FEC seats (accounting for about 57%) to MPs with German mother tongue (Germans who constitute about 75% of the Swiss population).

The Swiss have been using the above formula of power sharing among their linguistic demography since mid-nineteenth century when they formed their current constitution. Needless to say, in the formation of their FEC, they use proportionality wrt party strength as well. To satisfy proportionality wrt party strengths, since mid twentieth century the Swiss have been using what they call the “magic rule” of picking two MPs from their three largest parties and one MP from the party fourth in strength. Together, these four parties generally constitute 70-80% of the National Assembly. The FEC members divide various departments among themselves in seven clusters. However, they meet every week to discuss important policy matters and they decide everything by consensus.

Indian High Courts and Supreme Court and ECI (Election Commission of India) give us further justification for a government led by a collective or equals. In case of important decisions by a court, they create a multi-member bench with “equal” members. Even in the Election Commission of India, the three commissioners are supposed to function as equals in deciding various knotty issues they are faced with in the process of conducting elections. Under equality clause, any member of the group can’t act as an autocrat. This is even more important when running the affairs of a country or state. Temptation to act as a dictator is too much.

In the presence of more than one person gifted with eloquence, imagination, dedication, integrity and other leadership qualities and craving to be seen as a leader, why shouldn’t we enable all of them to be in the leadership position? Why does it have to be just one that must lead and the rest be losers or follow the diktat of the winner? With collective leadership of equals the leaders will always have to be logical and persuasive enough to garner support, at least of majority in the group. Collective leadership will not only ensure greater democracy, social justice, transparency, integrity and stability, it will also ensure continued longer duration of leadership of individuals gifted with leadership qualities. We need a structure wherein top leaders, instead of fighting and knocking each other off, are able to join hands in providing people with better life. The collective leadership in the form of Prime Ministerial Collective (PMC) should be formally elected by the parliament, rather than gathered on the basis of quid pro quo among the top leaders of one or more parties, leading to formal coronation of a single person as a sort of monarch of the country. At best, a single person at the top of a ruling hierarchy may be called a democratically elected autocrat, however, s/he is nothing but an autocrat, and s/he becomes obliged to behave as an autocrat. A suitable mode of electing a PMC is discussed in part-II of this article.


From the arguments made in part-I of this article, it would be best for the winning coalition in India to elect something like a 12-member Prime Ministerial Council (PMC), with equal power vested in all its members, on the pattern of FET in Switzerland. However, on the pattern of USA, the PMC should be able to reach out and “select” individuals from all over the country to form HOD (head of department) collectives to head various government departments. The top members of the administration would have to be approved by the parliament on the US pattern. Even the next few layers near the top of the administration may be filled by PMC, as is done in the US. However, not having any provision in Indian constitution, for appointment of people from outside IAS, IPS, etc., into the administrative positions, they may have difficulty in collecting our administrators from all over the country.. In that case, until they have amended the constitution, they could just work with PMC directly taking care of various departments manned by usual bureaucrats.

Further, many MPs may not like the number of ministerial positions limited to 12-member PMC, as it reduces their chance of becoming a minister. In that case, we could continue the tradition of including around 10% of the MPs into government made parts of six 7-member collectives to head six departmental clusters. In the following, we would assume that the parliament would like to continue to have a total of 10% of its members (54 out of 543) in the government – 12 in PMC and the remaining 42 in six 7-member ministry-collectives.

We can easily devise ways of democratically “electing” 12 or 50 individuals to be included in the government. Here is how we can go about it. As for regional quotas, we could divide India into six regions and agree to include just two from each region into PMC, and one each into the six 7-member ministry-collectives. As for social quotas, (1) we could either maintain the current norm of about 15% quota for the SC, 7.5% for ST, leaving the rest for general category in the political arena. This would entail giving 1 of the 12 positions to an ST individual, 2 to SC individuals, and the rest to be filled by the general category. (2) We could additionally require at least 4 individuals to be from the women category towards fulfilling women’s quota. (3) If the parliament would like to be as egalitarian as possible, it could use quotas of 1 for ST, 2 SC, 2 LBC (Lower OBC), 2 UBC (Upper OBC), 2 UC (Upper Caste), 2 Muslims, 1 other.

On the pattern of Switzerland, ideally, we could have a national government without an official opposition party. However, in Switzerland, since Swiss election of December of 2007, they have decided to keep their far-right wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) leader (Blocher), and hence, essentially SVP is an opposition party, outside of Swiss government. In India too all secular parties could join hands and form a Grand-Secular-Coalition (GSC) to “share” power. If secular parties adopt this kind of power-sharing them, they would have little difficulty in forming a stable, democratic, progressive and transparent government.

In the GSC, they would have as much of regional and social quotas as the GSC would like. In addition, within the GSC, they should be able to form smaller coalitions of independent candidates and small parties, which, on their own, would not be able to win any seats in the ministry, as well as new parties within the larger parties for the sake of winning one or more seats in PMC, and in other ministry-collectives. Having formed new parties and coalitions within the GSC, the latter could hold an election for constituting PMC, and other ministry-collectives as outlined below, according to free-list-Proportional Representation (fl-PR) as described below.

Each of the MPs in the GSC may be given, say, five votes to cast, which they will be required to distribute to five different MPs of their choice. Each of them would probably cast one vote for themselves. However, their four other votes would determine popularity of various MPs in the GSC. Votes collected by individual candidates would be added to respective parties or coalition they are associated with. Party-quotas may then be computed in proportion to votes for each party or coalition to fill the 12-member PMC as well as each of the six 7-member ministry-collectives. Thereafter a master-list may be prepared listing all candidates in order of votes obtained by them, listing the largest vote getter at the top. Candidates off the top of the list may be declared elected as a member of PMC one by one. After each one is elected, notations will be made against the various quota categories (regional, social and party-quotas) being filled. As soon as a certain category-quota is filled, rest of the members belonging to that category will become ineligible to be picked for PMC membership. However, there may still be room for their category in one of the six 7-member ministry-collectives. In this fashion, all quotas of seats in PMC and various ministries will be filled.

In case of a governing structure led by PMC of equals formally elected by MPs, MPs left out of the governing structure can’t hold a grudge against any single person (like PM) for not being included in the ministry. This is likely to add to the relative stability of such a structure. We can add further stability to this kind of structure by requiring a super-majority of something like 67% for a no-confidence vote to be effective. There is less danger of such a structure led by PMC becoming dictatorial than a structure led by PM to be autocratic. The latter is already in an autocratic model (of having a single person at the top), while former is not. The additional stability will add to the separation of legislative body from the executive body, considered to be an essential ingredient for a good democracy.

The PMC may try to use consensus in coming to a decision on most important issues. In case of lack of consensus on the said issue in the PMC, they may refer the same to the parliament. Decision by a collective of equals would prevent autocratic rule and use of consensus would protect minority rights.

Much has been made out regarding likely instability of the government out of hung parliament or fractured or fragmented mandate, which can actually give us a better, fairer and even more stable democracy than the ones obtained from a single party majority, lopsided or otherwise. It can justifiably be argued that the governments that we had, so far, from 1990 to 2009, out of the hung parliaments were far better than the ones we would have had if the biggest party at those times had absolute majority in the parliament, during the same periods. The governments out of the hung parliament may prove to be even better, and more stable, extending them from term to term, election after election, if parliament were to follow prescriptions outlined in this article, no matter whether the parliament is hung or not.

Dr. Satinath Choudhary was formerly a professor of Computer Science in USA. He can be contacted at

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