A Tale of Two Elections

LONDON – Individual elections do not always enhance democracy – a useful reminder that the ballot box is only one part, albeit a central one, in any free, plural society. Of course, there are also magnificent examples of elections that strengthen both the stability and the institutions of a community.

We have just witnessed an example of the second kind in India, the world’s largest and greatest democracy, where 420 million voters there returned a Congress-led government with a solid majority. It was in many respects a personal triumph for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His victory shows that it is possible to succeed in politics through decency, honesty, and high intelligence. Sonia Gandhi and her family should also take credit for putting at the forefront of their campaign a vision of an inclusive society, which rejects divisions on the basis of caste, ethnicity, language, and religion.

The result should help India to continue – not without occasional turbulence – its journey toward becoming a high-growth economy that raises the standard and quality of life for the poor.

I wish we could look forward in Europe to a similarly healthy democratic experience next month when voters throughout the European Union elect new members of the European Parliament. Since 1979, these MEPs have been elected direct rather than indirectly from national parliaments. But turnout for these elections has been falling in several countries. There is a danger that the number voting in June will be lower than ever before.