Elections held on 5 May, 2005, have returned Tony Blair’s Labour Party to power. As there are no reports of violence or "booth capturing", an observer from South Asia may conclude that this has been a ‘free and fair’ election.
However, it is widely accepted and recognised within Britain that Tony Blair and his party do not represent the popular will. They have won a simple majority of seats with only 36% of the votes cast. Given that only 61% of the electorate cast their vote, the Prime Minister has held on to power with the support of just a fifth of the British adult population, the lowest figure since 1832. Constitutional specialists have called this an "elective dictatorship". In short, the result is not at all seen to be a fair representation of the popular will.
Many commentators in Britain blame the ‘first-past-the-post’ system (which is also the system that is followed in India) for producing bizarre results. The Conservative Party (tories) gained 50,000 more votes than the Labour Party in England, but got 92 fewer English seats. Spokespersons of the Liberal Democratic Party point out that if the number of votes were to reflect the number of seats in Parliament, they would have more than doubled their number of seats from 62 to 141. "This general election has become a travesty of democracy," said Nina Temple, director of Make Votes Count, which campaigns for electoral reform.
As a result of a political process that is fast losing credibility among the voting public, the British now have a Prime Minister who claims that he has the "mandate" to continue on a course that nearly 80% of the people do not support. No sooner than his victory was declared, demands began to be expressed that Tony Blair should resign. These demands came from within the Labour Party itself, in addition to the demands from without.
If the elections were not fair, can it be said that they were free? Was every citizen of Britain free to express his political will through these elections? Apparently not, since many voters who wanted to express their opposition to Britain’s involvement in the war in Iraq, for instance, have been frustrated by the absence of anti-war candidates in most of the electoral constituencies.
The question arises – if the majority of people were against the war in Iraq, why were there not a majority of anti-war candidates? The answer is to be found in the monopoly control over the electoral arena by 2 or 3 ‘major’ parties, all of whom support the war in one way or another. This monopoly control is such that anyone who dares to contest on an anti-war platform had to face an extremely uphill battle, including all kinds of threats and conspiracies.
It is instructive to study the experience of George Galloway, who was expelled by the Labour Party for having opposed the Iraq war, and who stood and won in East London on an anti-war and anti-privatisation platform, as a candidate of the recently formed Respect Party. No sooner than his victory was announced than the BBC started beaming reports of a US Senate Committee claiming to have found evidence that Galloway was guilty of having made secret deals with Saddam Hussein. This is in spite of the fact that Galloway had already refuted the same charges made earlier by the Daily Telegraph and won a legal battle against that newspaper.
Any impartial observer is compelled to conclude that all citizens of Britain do not equally enjoy the right to elect and be elected. The political process is neither free nor fair. Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent of The Independent, writes, "The election campaign has been notable for a persistent unease, widely expressed by voters of all parties, about British democracy . . . Some would say our democracy is in crisis; few would dispute it is in urgent need of a health check."
This raises serious questions for people in South Asia.Is it not high time that we find an alternative to an imported system of democracy that is found to be unfit even in its country of origin?