While the current Australian focus with regard to India is either on the cricket or its burgeoning software industry, there is another item worth considering - namely the Indian model for a republic. India is the world’s largest democracy with 675 million registered voters and has now been operating for 60 years. India has embraced the Westminster system, like Australia, but is a federal republic.
India has so far elected 12 presidents. The first four were, as would be expected, politicians. However since then they have elected a wide range of individuals from trade unionists to philosophers. The last president, Dr Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, trained as an aeronautical engineer and is a world-renowned scientist. The current holder, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil assumed office as the 12th President of India on July 25, 2007. She is the first woman to have been elected to this august office. By contrast the USA is still waiting to elect its first female president.
What is the Indian secret of success? I believe it is the way in which the country elects a president. Every five years a new president is elected at a Presidential Convention. The electors are not just the Federal Parliament, but every member of every state and regional parliament. The vote appears to be done on a preferential voting system familiar to all Australians. The model is elegantly simple and has the collateral benefit of having state and federal politicians acting together for once instead of the antagonistic positions that they always seem to adopt.
In contrast the current Australian debate is a standoff.
The Australian Republican Movement (ARM) is pushing a two-stage process of first having a plebiscite with the people voting on whether they want an Australian head of state and then letting the people decide on the model of government that they prefer.
John Howard, a true Burkean conservative, argued that Australia has a system of government that has worked since 1901. If you want to change it you must come up with a new model first, not some idealistic concepts. While he was abused in the media for this stance, it is pragmatic and realistically needs to be answered.
The ARM, on its website, has come up with six different models ranging from the people electing a president to one being elected by Federal Parliament. The ARM proposes that once the people have decided they want an Australian head of state then they choose the republican model.
Unfortunately this approach is flawed. For better or worse we live in a representative democracy. The people elect representatives to ponder and make decisions. Also the two models proposed at the last Constitutional Convention, either federal parliament or the people choosing a president, are both seriously inconsistent.
To understand why either model is flawed we have to understand the inherent weakness in democracy. The Greeks invented democracy and it was Aristotle in Politics who first postulated the problem: “How do you stop a populist demagogue from assuming power, particularly by gaining control of the army, and becoming a tyrant?”
History provides many examples.
France was a democracy following the revolution in 1789,, but within 15 years Napoleon was crowning himself Emperor.
Hitler was elected in 1932, and as head of the largest minority party, was made leader of a coalition government in 1933. As visitors to the museum at Berchtesgaden can attest, over the next five years Hitler then carried out a five-pronged attack on the other political parties, judiciary, trade unions, the military and media.
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