Voice of the people, is the voice of god. This is what “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” means, I’ve saved you from the trouble of looking for the meaning of this Latin phrase. But if you truly want to find a meaning to this phrase then look no further than your nearest democratic country and since you are reading this in Australia, you are witnessing democracy at its finest. Your humble writer of this article is from the constitutional republic and the representative democracy of India, so allow me to shed some light on the various aspects of the voting process of these 2 large democracies and how voting has in the past and in the present plays an important part in shaping up the future of their respective coming generations.
Australia and India share not only their democratic values but they also share a history of British colonialism and architecture enthusiasts can also spot resemblance with some of the buildings constructed during the same era. This colonial heritage also in some ways has paved the way for their current democratic values. The idea of a democratic voting system in Australia started in the 1950’s with the miners demanding voting rights and only after the constitution was formed, women were allowed to vote as well. Fast forward to 1915 and we see compulsory voting being introduced for the state election of Queensland which was later on introduced at a larger level in the Federal elections of 1925, which witnessed a voting turnout of 91.4% from the dismal 59.38% voter turnout in the 1922 Federal elections. Any individual 18 and above, must enrol themselves for the electoral roll and then have to cast their votes in the federal elections, by-elections and referendums, failing to do so the individual has to give an explanation for their absence and if the justification is not deemed valid then a fine is imposed or else face the legal system.
India is a federalism government-based democracy where elections are held at federal, state and local levels. Like in Australia, the voting age in India is also 18 years and individuals are expected to apply for a voting card if they want to be a part in the celebration of democracy called elections. Being the largest democracy in the world, a voter is free to choose candidates from legions of political parties contesting an election. Allowing people of all classes to vote since its independence, the Indian elections are a sight to behold as the voters are wooed by showing the strength through large rallies or announcing various sops and subsidies by the ruling parties as well as the opposition who promise all this once voted back to power. In India, voting is not compulsory and the voters even though encouraged to vote in large numbers, can give their right to vote a miss without any penalty for not voting.
Compulsion to vote is an idea that I being an Indian would like to cherish and hope for my home country to adopt it someday but also having been raised in this very highly democratic country, a big part of the voting population including me feels that it is an order that clips the wings of our sense of freedom. What compulsory voting brings with itself is a clear referendum of the people and the voice of the people in an actual sense. The elected representatives can claim to have the population backing them and not just some sections of the society. By mandating voting, voters have no choice but to vote, which might also set up the debate for the indifference of voters and seeing voting as another law they have to abide to like paying taxes. This indifference could see undeserving candidates being elected for important decisions which might later affect the voters very own future. But compulsory voting brings about accountability on part of the voter, they are responsible for their own elected governments. This sense of responsibility also results in a more conscious decision making while voting for the candidates. The political parties on the other hand have to be extra cautious while taking any decisions as similar voting patterns could mean that majority of the population sees them unfit to lead. This system of voting also results in a more politically aware voter who is aware about the agendas and the work done of not just federal level leaders but also local constituency candidates. Socially and politically aware citizens make for a well-informed nation. Australia is not alone when it comes to mandatory voting. Many developed nations like Singapore, Belgium and Argentina have made voting compulsory as well.
In a land of thousand political parties, with millions of voters, India stands proud of its electoral system. Elections are monitored by a constitutional body, The Election Commission, there is an election happening in every few days at some part of the country whether at local or other block levels. India, the 6th largest economy in the world (according to IMF) with 1.35 billion people spread across 3.287 square kilometres, is a country brimming with people of varied expectations and aspirations. Every election brings with it new promises and new beginnings with an optimistic mindset that the next elected government would bring with it something that the current government has failed to provide with. To cope up with this anti-incumbency, the ruling parties announce various schemes according to different classes in the society to lure them in. And the opposition announces more promises which just keep on getting grander. This circle of one-upmanship by the political parties are a constant throughout the year, even after the elections are over.
Indian elections see voters from different backgrounds coming together to vote but with different agendas and problems. One of the major drawbacks of this kind of system where voting is not compulsory is that, the elected government can never claim to have a clear mandate of the people. It is not a collective voice of the entire voters. Only a sectional majority usually decides who would be in ruling for the next few years. To add to the drawbacks, many uninformed and extremism favouring voters could also cut back the votes of a deserving candidate or worse even elect an undeserving one. Many a voters also get dissuaded by the glitzy advertising and propaganda campaigns by the political parties from their own viewpoints. Non-mandatory voting sees in low voter turnouts in the local body elections in India and sometimes even in the state elections. The voter turnout usually ranges in the 60% – 70% bracket, even though offices and schools remain shut on polling days. To add to that this kind of voting with multiple parties in the fray, often leads to divisive politics and can also brush with agendas which seems to be favouring just any one community or religion. And the elected officials from these sections rarely enjoy a mandate and form up governments with coalitions, which are ticking time bombs with the supporting parties threatening to pull out their support if they are not given due importance. Governments are elected and formed by the people but barring the current ruling government which was elected in 2014, rarely governments are formed without a coalition in India. So sectional representation plays a very big role in Indian voting and politics.
India and Australia are two fine examples of democracies in the world. The way the elections are conducted is also something to be marvelled at. Population spread across such vast latitudes and longitudes but still getting united when coming to vote. The elections in these two countries are nothing less than a celebration of democracy and they (the citizens) should cherish it. The voting procedures are different but the very fundamental rights are restored whenever the population comes out to vote in these two countries. Having seen the elections closely in both the nations I could say that, compulsory voting is definitely more appealing to me but the nation I belong to, even gives us the right to refrain from voting and has clearly stated in its constitution that it is our right to vote but not a duty. Voice of the people (Vox Populi), is perhaps at best could be termed as the voice of majority and as for the voice of god (Vox Dei), let’s just leave that to the seers.