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Re-engineering Democracy

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April 14, 2017

What is the issue?

Online polls are gaining ground in the digital age.


  • It is common knowledge that there are two types of democracy: direct and indirect.
  • A direct democracy does not award full governance powers to the government.
  • Instead, using the mechanisms of referendum, recall, initiative and plebiscite, direct democracy allows the participation of every enfranchised citizen in approving many major governmental decisions.
  • An indirect democracy, on the other hand, vests elected representatives, who run the government under a leader, with vast powers to take decisions on behalf of its people.

How indirect democracy is justified?

  • One, leadership is not the speciality of everybody.
  • Taking sound political decisions requires the collaboration of many kinds of deep expertise in subjects as varied as economics, finance and psychology, overseen by the definition-eluding leadership.
  • Two, it is unwieldy and cumbersome, if not impossible, to secure the vote of millions of people on every significant decision.

What is the core purpose of democracy?

  • The core purpose of a democracy is to execute the will of its people.
  • The internet and IT provide sophisticated tools to enable the core purpose.
  • Central to the re-engineering of the current democracy would be the online poll.

What is the usage of online polls?

  • Online polls may be used to collect authentic data from millions of people within a short time with barely any cost to the citizen and only an incremental increase in the IT budgets of the government.
  • Such polls would help overcome the great limitation of the indirect democracy model in collecting reliable poll results in a short period of time from hundreds of millions of people.
  • The polls could be conducted with security being provided for by a citizen id (the voter id or Aadhaar in India, the social security number in the US, for example).
  • Through four kinds of online polls, the direct democracy mechanisms of referendum, recall, plebiscite and initiative may be implemented.

What are the types of online polls?

  • Decision polls, which determine by majority vote whether or not a proposal should be implemented.
  • Opinion polls, which provide opinion on specific matters (say, a proposed amendment to a law or the budgetary allocation for greening initiatives).
  • Sentiment polls, which gauge what the mood of the people is on the state of affairs
  • Election polls, which help elect the representatives of the people who would form the government

What will be the benefits?

  • The new democracy would enable greater inclusion, decision-making based on verified data rather than educated guesses or arcane statistical methods, and defeating mala fide intentions.
  • Voter turnout is likely to be higher since the process of voting would not be as burdensome as going to a booth, and identity theft would be markedly lower than with voting booths.
  • With no significant bureaucracy or onerous processes required to organise the polls, the cost of running a well-informed and participative government would be only marginally higher to begin with.
  • The overall costs of governance over the medium and long term would drop dramatically owing to the far higher quality of decisions.

How people’s movement can be formalised?

  • Online polls would also act as conduits to channel movements mobilised by the general public and driven by the social media.
  • In the future, such movements are likely to increase in number and intensity.
  • In a direct democracy, this sort of a movement would have conformed to the original definition of initiative.
  • The re-engineered model of democracy provides formalism for the orderly incorporation of such movements.
  • In addition, the new model would provide institutional processes for unambiguously implementing the people’s will in situations such as what prevailed in Tamil Nadu.

How scepticism could be avoided?

  • Sceptics of the proposed reforms to the indirect democracy model need only turn to online banking and e-commerce.
  • Very high volume transactions with uncompromised integrity of identity and accounting are being performed on a daily basis.
  • The error and breach rates are far lower than that of the traditional world of elections.

What is the way ahead?

  • A report by NASSCOM and Akamai Technologies released around August 2016 predicts India would have 730 million internet users by 2020.
  • The vision of a re-engineered democracy would take a few years to realise and requires the creation of an Amazon or Netflix type technology architecture.
  • By the time the architecture is ready, the voting Indian population should have access to the internet through smartphones or otherwise.
  • Given its prowess in IT, India can lead the way by launching a distinct e-governance initiative centred on online polls and powerful analytics.


Source: Business Line

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