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Can we make elections count?

Democracies can be populist or representative, liberal or illiberal, direct or delegated, party based or responsive, responsible or crisis riddled effective or deficient as one may perceive. Voting in a democracy allows legitimacy and smooth transition to the leader and a sense of belonging to its people. Corruption is better controlled because of the watch that the opposition keeps. Even as social media has rendered democracy vulnerable, not only we need governments that are accountable but are responsive too.

 

Whereas other systems, such as absolute monarchs, military dictatorships, theocracies, etc. rely on a small cabal of people, or are controlled by individuals, democracy by far is the best because it lets the people decide who will rule them. It is less likely to go to war since the people may not rally behind. On the other hand, majority groups could be a threat to the minority groups, if the governments choose to serve only some interests.

 

However, democracies may have short-term vision since coming back to power will always weigh on political parties. Sometimes, it can result in unwieldy coalitions, or endless squabbling and political deadlock. They may even be manipulated and distorted by wealthy individuals, motivated media, special interest groups and everything digital.

 

Is there good democracy and bad democracy? Is there a minimum threshold of performance that defines a democracy? The quality and success are evaluated by the rule of law, accountability, responsiveness, freedom and equality, though the quality of democracy is indirectly derived from the satisfaction expressed by its citizens. However, information corrupts and it is difficult to differentiate between trusted and fake news. If fake news for example were to sway public opinion, can a democracy survive? What must be the measure of performance of political parties and governments? Can there be an appropriate assessment and accreditation process to evaluate them? Can a system similar to QS Stars awarded to educational institutions be used to assess political parties and governments?

 

The major influence parameters could be fair elections, polling percentages, corruption index, credibility index, dissemination of information, transparency and accountability quotient, meeting expectations and poll funding. Since democracy thrives on the existence of a local, centralized and efficient bureaucracy and the existence of an efficient police force that respects individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by law, their assessment too must be an important parameter. Intelligent weights assigned to such parameters will generate the objective function. Solving the function mathematically can generate the threshold for democracy. A threshold of about 50 may pass the muster but anything below it must put the government and the party on notice. Besides, linking political funding by corporates to the threshold of a party can check its misuse.

 

More sub parameters such as credibility of voter lists, EVM tamper, booth capture, unfair use of national resources, political interference, GDP growth, foreign reserves, inflation index, job growth, farmer distress and so on and so forth, could improve the quality of the objective function.

 

The stakes are very high during election times. Social media is often misused. Number of hits are manipulated to effect a viewer’s conclusion about a candidate’s popularity. Don’t we see the count of tweets or likes of certain leaders surging dramatically during election times? Artificial intelligence that models para psychology and counters bots with counter bots can confuse viewers on the reality. Consequently, voters will either disbelieve all that floats on the social media or will go off it altogether.

 

Hence, trust is essential to free and fair elections. One can even model propaganda effort in graph-theory form. Parapsychology creates a “trust network” in every individual where each of us keep a mental trust network that helps us decide what to believe or disbelieve. The nodes in this weighted network, like the people, institutions, and ideas are entities that we are familiar with. A nonlinear relationship has weights on the nodes as values of trust and distrust that we implicitly assign to entities we know. A team of IT experts and social media researchers working for a candidate or a party, can sift through voluminous data, look for patterns and make us alter connections and values in our trust network thereby influencing our choices. It is said, when elections end, slavery begins. Should we not then, make elections count?

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