Why are elections important?

FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS The purpose of free and fair elections at national level is twofold. First is to choose the head of government or chief executive and the broad policy that the government will pursue. Second is to choose the members of the representative assembly, legislature or parliament, who will decide on legislation and taxation and scrutinize the work of the government on the people’s behalf.

In a presidential system, where the president is head of the government, these two purposes are clearly distinguished by having separate elections for president and members of the legislature; such elections may or may not take place at the same time.

In a prime ministerial or parliamentary system, one set of elections will fulfill both purposes since it is the elected members of parliament who will determine the head of the government on the basis of which party leader can win majority support in parliament.

Elections and popular control

The regular election of these officials in an open and competitive process constitutes the chief instrument of popular control in a representative democracy. Elections demonstrate that political power derives from the people and is held in trust for them; and that it is to the people that politicians must account for their actions.

In the last resort only the possibility of being turned out of office ensures that those elected fulfill their trust and maintain the standard of public, office, and guarantees those changes in the personnel and policies of government that changing circumstances require.

Should the Head of State be popularly elected?  

The office of Head of State should be a largely ceremonial and symbolic one, representing the unity of the nation above the competition of the unity of the nation above the competition of party, the continuity of the state above the changeability of governments, the permanence of the constitutions above the temporality of particular legislation.

This symbolic function can attain a special importance at moments of national crisis or constitutional controversy, when the Head of State may come to exercise considerable discretionary power.

Different System

In a presidential system, the elected president combines the ceremonial function of Head of State with the executive function of head of government (as in Russia, the USA and most Latin American countries). In a parliamentary republic, the head of state will be non-executive president, elected either directly or by parliament (as in Germany, Ireland, India, etc.). In a constitutional monarchy, the Head of state will be determined by heredity and will hold office for life (as in Belgium, Spain, the UK).

No Best one

Which of these is best? There is no simple answer, as each has to be assessed in the context for a constitutional system as a whole. The executive presidency has the disadvantages that the Head of State is not isolated from the controversy of day-to-day politics or the odium of unpopular of failed policies. On the other hand, a non elected monarchy is hardly democratic institutions, especially where it constitutes the apex of a system of landed wealth and aristocratic status.

At the very least a, monarchy should have been subject to approval by popular referendum, and its prerogatives should be carefully delimited by a written constitution.

What other public offices should be popularly elected?

Since the elected chief executive is responsible to the public and to parliament for the conduct and competence of all civil servants in the employ of a national government, there is a strong argument for making such posts subject to appointment form above rather than election from below, provided the initial recruitment to them is open to any qualified member of society.

However a, democracy also requires public services that are responsive to local needs and to the variability of local circumstances. Here lies the justification for having elected bodies to supervise the administration of local services-health, education, the police, and so on- and to take responsibility for local government in general.

Elections and the judiciary

Should the judiciary be elected? At the first sight consistency would seem to require that just as the legislature and chief executive is popularly elected, so should the judiciary be. However, since the judiciary serves a legal rather than a impartiality rather than popularity, the tenure of office should be immune from popular disapproval or the danger of becoming too closely identified with a particular section of the community.

It is the task of parliament to ensure that legislation the levels of sentence, etc, remain in touch with public opinion, not that of the judiciary itself. At the same time the pattern of recruitment to the judiciary is a matter of legitimate democratic concern. Especially where it works to disadvantage substantial sections of society, such as women and members of ethnic or other minorities.