Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Understanding the results of the 2009 elections

I don't know in which case instant wisdom is worse: the Union budget or the elections. In both instances, it is the idiot box that plays havoc with sober judgement. Even as the news is happening, pundits are ready to shoot their mouths. Whereas in both cases, a careful dissection of data is required in order to arrive at an informed judgement.

Let us consider some of the conclusions that abound in post-election punditry:

1. Regional parties have been shown their place, national parties have regained their dominance: We need always to distinguish between number of seats won and share of the vote. It is possible for a ruling party to become unpopular and see its share of the vote fall. Still, it may win more seats because the opposition vote happened to be more splintered.

In the present election, Yogesh Yadav estimates that the combined vote share of the Congress and the BJP climbed from 48.7% in 2004 to 48.9% in 2009- hardly any change. This translated into a disproportionate increase in total seats of the two parties from 283 to 321, with the Congress gaining 61 seats and the BJP losing 23 seats.

So, the regional parties have retained their importance. It is just that the relative shares of the Congress and the BJP in the national party pie changed so as to place one party in a stronger position than before.

2. The results are a vote for stability and good governance: This implies that regional parties are an unstable factor and the national parties alone can provide stability and good governance. The figure for the vote share of regional parties has hardly changed. Besides, the BJP, which has provided stability and good governance in Gujarat, is a big loser. The Congress benefited from the electoral arithmetic in many ways: for instance, it made big gains in AP because the Chiranjivi factor ate into the votes of the TDP and in Maharasthra, the MNS ate into the votes of the Sena-BJP. A slight change in the electoral arithmetic could once again create instability at the centre.

3. The results are a vote for "reforms" and the Congress-led UPA should, therefore, fast forward "reforms": The Congress benefited from a rise in rural incomes and prosperity driven by growth in agriculture, an area that is least touched by reforms. It also benefited from measures that "reformers" relentlessly fought: NREGA, the farm debt waiver, the Sixth Pay Commission award, an increase in subsidies and OBC quotas.

The one formation that lost heavily from its attempt to push through "reforms" was the Left in West Bengal which tried to usurp farm land in order to push ahead with industrialisation. (SEZs are an important item on the "reforms" agenda). It is fair to say that the UPA benefited from measures associated with the Left while the Left lost because of measures associated with the "reformers'!

4. The nation has rejected the "communalist" BJP: It is said that it was the BJP's attempts to project Narendra Modi as a future national leader and the vitriolic outbursts of Varun Gandhi that cost the BJP dearly. Really? Then, how come Varun himself won handsomely in Pilibhit and the BJP did well in Karnataka which is considered progressive and was out of the BJP orbit until recently?

I'm afraid none of the explanations put forward, such as the ones above, are free from infirmity. There are only three things one can say we can with a degree of certitude. One, regional parties remain a force. Two, the electoral arithmetic can cause the outcome in terms of seats won to diverge significantly from the outcome in terms of vote shares. Three, the only way to combat the anti-incumbency factor is to focus on measures that have a pro-poor and rural orientation.


Unknown said...

I think not allowing traditional means of advertisements have cost regional parties dearly. Not everyone is media savvy, Cong scores very high there. Though BJP adopted a great internet strategy perhaps learning from US Elections, their TV media plan was poorly executed.
a) their ads are a take off on cong, hence less constructive.
b) their debates are delivered as worst form of cynicism.
c) No one from BJP smiles when they come on TV.

Anonymous said...

The current euphoria stems from expectation of reforms...but one needs to wait and see whether the new government can make bold decisions....it may so happen that public mood swings by that time and there may be agitation against new reforms like disinvestment...Congress party has already set precedents where it has buckled under public pressure on various issue. And it tends to play populist... So, it would be prudent to exercise cautioun when TV channels term this verdict as watershed for economy.

rationalist said...

Dear Sir,
I agree with you that the vote share of the two national parties has not increased considerably but at the same time the vote share of the congress has increased substantially.Moreover the reasons why Varun gandhi won wasn't simply because of the polarisation but also because of the work done by his mother in the constituency and even minorities voted for him. As far as Mr Modi is concerned his vote share dropped considerably in his own state as compared to the assembly elections.

Anonymous said...

The possibility of reforms being pursued stems from the fact the current UPA dont need Left support for survival. I expect UPA to start some economic reform in the first 2-3 years and then move to the rural agenda like NREGA and others.

gaddeswarup said...

The difference in the percentage of votes for Lok Sabha and the state assemblies (complicated by the fact that alliances have changed) may be one indicator of support for the various parties. I wonder whether some indicators of this sort are available.

Mohan said...

Your 3 conclusions regarding the outcome of elections are spot on sir. Specially, when I consider the pro-poor measures that the Congress Govt. took up in AP; Also, the electoral arithmetic that dented the TDP. A very effective analysis put in very simple terms.