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This is elections time at ICAI, an institution that prides on the democracy practiced in getting members to the councils, at Central as well as Regional levels.  

I thought I should share some of the experiences (I was present during the counting exercise of the Southern India candidates, during last elections at Delhi in 1996) as well as my thoughts on the process as well as the very edifice on which our electoral system operates. I should begin by complimenting the excellent work that was done by the team, very ably headed by Mr Kartikeyan (present Secretary of ICAI). Days and days of continuous hours with no sleep or rest, their resilience, patience and thoroughness are seen to be believed. Not once they showed any slight signs of irritation or frustration. All the clarifications sought were patiently given and all the expressed apprehensions were taken duly note of. When the boxes were opened, booth by booth, the enthusiastic officer in charge was even announcing the places with commentaries laced with apt adjectives such as “this is from Bangalore, the IT icon of India”, “next is of Coimbatore, the textile centre of South India”, (in the lotto game style) much to the appreciation of all present. The arrangements made for the timely snacks, tea, food were simply impeccable and the hospitality astounding.  


It was a detailed process even to provide the first count of votes polled. Then the process of checking the validity of votes polled was done, rather elaborately and only at about 1.30 a.m on the 31st, they came up with the final figures of valid votes (both postal and polled) and the quota fixation as 1475 for CC and 830 for RC. (When Mr Kartikeyan showed us the invalid ballots, for a few minutes we all stood in shame and silence, baffled by the manner in which some of the ballots were marked by the supposedly ‘literate’ members. It is perfectly understandable if one does not understand the process of the election, which is per se complicated, but if people can’t even cast their votes properly and that actually about 250 ballots can become invalid, it is indeed a sad commentary).


Suddenly, there was an air of excitement and even those whose eyes looked so tired, became fully awake when the actual candidate-wise counting began. The numbered trays began getting their fodder - some with lightening speed, some steadily and some with pathetic pace. The colors of the faces of the candidates’ representatives began changing rapidly too. It was well past 4 in the wee hours of the last day of 2006, the first trends began to emerge and at about 5 a.m, the first round results were announced. Cellphones never ceased their r(s)inging. Results were being flashed in realtime. A representative of a candidate had set up a complete e-centre, with all gadgets like his laptop, printer, wireless internet connectivity, Bluetooth in one ear and netphone earpiece on the other and was feverishly updating his excel sheets with the latest figures and was e-mailing them to friends across the nation, without looking a wee bit tired. Indeed, it was fun and thrill to watch all the excitement.


Relentlessly and with dogged determination, the counting team pursued with the distribution of the surplus votes of the two quota candidates and then, on the elimination of the bottom ranking candidates. (That it was pitch dark outside at 7 am, with the thick fog resulting in zero visibility making it impossible for any one to leave the premises is another reason for the ‘might-as-well-continue’ decision!). After almost a marathon 50 hours nonstop exercise, at about 5 p.m on the 31st evening, we got to know the results. While most of us left the counting centre, the team was still slogging with the formalities.


That a mere 13000 plus votes could take so much time for counting was because and only because of our adoption of the very peculiar ‘single transferable ballot system’ where the voters are expected to mark preferences in the ballot papers for the multiple candidates. This time, for the Central Council (from the Southern Region), it was about 16 contestants for eight vacancies. The way in which the votes were distributed in deference to the preferences reminded of a traditional indoor game that used to be played in the South, called Pallankuzhi.


There are many who extol the virtues of this system and even argue that there could be no better system than this where you have to choose multiple candidates. However, to my simple mind this system suffers from maladies and smacks of absolute unreasonableness as also hardly reflective of the voters’ intentions. Let me proceed to make my point good. First the determination of quota. It is said that the total number of valid votes polled will be divided by the number of candidates to be elected plus one. That is, in our region’s case, where 8 central council candidates are to be elected, the total number of valid votes will be divided by 9 to arrive at the quota. In this method, if the total number of valid votes were, say, 18000 and hence the quota would be 2000, is it not technically (and theoretically) possible for 9 candidates to get the quota @ 2000 each? In such a case, will those 9 people (as against 8 vacancies) be declared elected? I think that there is an inherent fallacy here. It appears that the original formula must have been different and somewhere some one must have misapplied the same and that the same is continuing, without any application of mind.


Be that as it may, is it also not possible for a candidate (taking the above example), to rope in just a gung-ho committed 2000 out of the 18000 voters, to cast their first preferences to him and find his way to the council even though the other 16000 would not have given him ANY preference? Again a theoretical but yet a possibility? Is this, by any stretch of argument, reasonable or democratic? To say that in practice it may not happen is amateurish. The fact that the system has an in-built and palpable unreasonableness is without doubt.


Again the system of marking preferences loses all its value in most cases. For example, in the case of an elimination candidate who might have got huge second and third preferences from a candidate who gets eliminated subsequent to him, such preferences become completely worthless. Similarly, if a voter casts Candidate X his fourth preference, if his first two preferences become quota candidates and the third preference gets eliminated early in the race, the Candidate X becomes his First preference in complete distortion of the voter’s intentions. One can go on listing the fallacies like this. That this system has survived so long is possibly because it has remained largely un-understood, unexplained and therefore un questioned. Trust me, 9 out of 10 members of our profession have little idea of the intricacies of the system. (The balance of 10% also might have understood in various shades of grey!)


The best and the simplest system would be to adopt a Weighted Average system by which the preferences would be given appropriate weights and the required no. of candidates with the maximum number of points should be elected. So, if there are 8 preferences to be marked for as many candidates to be elected, the first preference should be multiplied by 8, second by 7, third by 6 and so on. (Any higher preference than eighth should be disregarded). This way, no preference given by any member can and will go waste and the results will also be completely reflective of voters’ intentions.


Besides, the valuable resources of the Institute need not be put under so much of strain for over a fortnight. If we go and tell the outside world that we, the premier accounting body, take almost 20 days to count just about 60 to 70 thousands of votes to elect some 30 and odd members, in a method the effectiveness of which we may hardly be able to defend, we may well become a laughing stock.


After all, we have to be conscious of the fact that it is in our country, we boast of the largest democracy and when 30 to 40 crores of people go to the general polls, we are able to churn out the results in a matter of a few hours. Well, people may say that the system in general elections is a simple majority and that ours is a lot complicated. However, it seems to me that ours is complicated not by default but by design and it is perhaps time that the leadership of the profession makes introspection and bring in the required reforms. On the other hand, if we choose to be the slave of a monster that we ourselves created, who can help us?                            

Published by

PS Prabhakar
(Partner in a CA firm)
Category Others   Report

1 Likes   54 Shares   15540 Views


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