The Elephant’s Choices

With the results of India's month-long general election set to be announced on May 16, only one outcome is certain: another period of broad coalition rule. That may not be a bad thing, since coalition politics gives representation to the myriad interests that make up a diverse and complex society, and ensures that the country as a whole accepts the policies ultimately adopted.

New Delhi – A month after they first queued to vote in India’s mammoth general election, the country’s voters will learn the outcome on May 16. The election, staggered over five phases – involving five polling days over four weeks, rather than one “election day” – will determine who rules the world’s largest democracy. Only one thing is certain: no single party will win a majority on its own. India is set for more coalition rule.

That may not be a bad thing. India’s last two governments each served a full term and presided over significant economic growth, even though they comprised 23 and 20 parties, respectively. Coalition politics gives representation to the myriad interests that make up a diverse and complex society, and ensures that the country as a whole accepts the policies ultimately adopted.

But coalition rule can also often mean governance of the lowest common denominator, as resistance by any of the government’s significant members to a policy can delay or even thwart it. In India’s parliamentary system, if a coalition loses its majority, the government falls, and keeping allies together can sometimes prove a greater priority than getting things done.

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