Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 04 July 2024

Parliamentary debates form the essence of democracy

News Excerpt: 

Houses of Parliament are core sites of deliberation where national issues are discussed and solutions found through argument. Positions taken in Parliament also serve as a record for the electorate to assess their political representatives.

More About News:

  • The just-concluded general elections have once again proven the vitality of Indian democracy.
  • The democratic process has established that the democratic institutions of this country are more than capable of giving all sections of society a voice, especially the marginalized.
  • With the formation of a new government, parliamentary processes have kicked in.
  • The formal process of political communication between electors and the elected has also begun.
  • Parliamentary debates are an important element of this.Elected representatives of the people make their position on various issues official by engaging in debates on the floor of the two Houses of Parliament.

Criticisms of Parliamentary Debates:

  • In this day-and-age of electronic media, both conventional and social, there is no dearth of instruments available for political messaging.
  • Some political commentators question the relevance of parliamentary debates.
  • They contend that these often repeat what has already been said in the public sphere by political campaigners, party spokespersons and Members of Parliament (MPs).
  • They also question the 'deliberative effect' of such debates.
    • since instances of a climbdown or revision of a previously-held position by an opponent in the light of what German political thinker Jurgen Habermas called “the better argument" are few and far between.
  • Parliamentary debates are no paragons of Habermasian virtue—which aims for an 'Ideal Speech Situation,' where participants are swayed by reason and reason alone.
    • Politics being ‘essentially contested,’ such a situation is neither feasible nor desirable.
  • Critics argue that parliamentary discussions are not deliberative, as they neither influence opponents to revise their positions, nor help in reaching a consensus.
  • Critics argue that such debates are almost entirely strategic and partisan in nature, and that their real aim is to influence the electorate outside the House rather than help make better legislative decisions within Parliament.
  • Critics contend that these debates, though televised, are not keenly followed by the larger electorate and therefore the idea that they are educational is far-fetched.

Unique Value of Parliamentary Debates:

  • Parliamentary debates have the unique ability to provide a multi-perspective view on political issues and impart authenticity to the positions taken by national political players by making them official.
    • Positions taken in Parliament act as a record for the electorate to assess the conduct of political representatives.
    • Statements and assertions made elsewhere, though important, do not serve as concrete indicators to help a voter reward or punish a representative.
  • Political statements and assertions made by political players elsewhere run the risk of being lost amid vast waves of media messages.
  • Numbers rather than arguments determine enactments.
    • This view, though largely true in its observations, underestimates the beneficial effects of such debates on the country's electorate despite their partisan nature.
  • Politics is a contest for political power, and parliamentary debates help voters make up their mind by presenting an all-round perspective on a political issue and reflecting all shades of opinion across the political spectrum.
  • Democracy demands not just voting but 'informed voting' for it to function as well as envisaged.
  • Important debates that matter more are widely shown on air by various news channels and also widely reported.
  • The sharp political positions taken in these debates are also disseminated to voters at large through press conferences and political speeches.

Broader Significance of Parliamentary Debates:

  • Parliament is the most visible symbol of our democracy, and parliamentary debates are the most obvious examples of 'democracy in action.'
    • James De Mille said, "A parliamentary debate, when carried on by able men, is one of the finest exhibitions of the powers of the human mind that can be witnessed.
  • Thinkers like Habermas observe that a communicative society is much better placed to resolve its conflicts than a non-communicative one.
  • Houses of Parliament are core sites of deliberation where national issues can be discussed and solutions found through argument.
    • According to Robert E. Goodin, talking is a good ‘discovery procedure,’ while voting is a good ‘decision procedure,’ and talking before voting is always good for democracy. 
  • Parliament has a special ability to combine elements of aggregation and deliberation that can confer higher political legitimacy on participants.

Conclusion:

Parliamentary debates are crucial for a vibrant democracy, serving as the most visible example of 'democracy in action.' They provide a platform for deliberation, offering multi-perspective views on national issues and conferring political legitimacy to participants.As James De Mille noted, these debates can be "one of the finest exhibitions of the powers of the human mind." Given their importance in fostering informed voting and resolving conflicts, we must value parliamentary debates and hope for their continued abundance in our democratic process.

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