Electoral democracy vs constitutional democracy: Post-poll lessons


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Electoral and non-electoral aspects of democracy


The recently concluded assembly elections have some larger implications that we need to take note of. The consequences are not confined to the five states where the electoral battle was fought.

Undermining of non-electoral dimensions of democracy

  • In much of the world, the electoral aspects of democracy are now being used to undermine the non-electoral dimensions of democracy.
  • Today, such contradictions exist in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Russia, to name just a few countries.
  • A freely conducted vote can thus be used to cripple the other freedoms that modern democracies also value.

How electoral democracy can be a vehicle of assault on constitutional democracy

  • The triumph of such politics can now be used in three ways — in executive decrees, in legislative chambers to formulate laws, and on the street via vigilante forces.
  • Though minority rights are enshrined in India’s Constitution, election victories can now be used to create laws, or government policies that begin to attack precisely those rights.
  • Role of judiciary: The courts are the final custodian of constitutional proprieties in a democracy and can frustrate a legislative or executive attack on the Constitution.
  • But that depends on whether the judiciary is willing to play its constitutionally assigned role.
  • Judicial interpretation can go either way – in favour of the government or against it.

Contradictory aspects of democracy from other parts of the world

  • These contradictory aspects of democracy do have older roots.
  • We can go all the way back to some tendencies that emerged in the democracy of America’s southern states in the 1880s, which lasted till the 1960s.
  • America’s Blacks lost their equality as well as franchise, and the courts did not invalidate a majoritarian attack on their rights.
  • The history of 1930s Germany is also viewed as an example of how democracy undermined democracy.
  • As early as the 1950s, Sri Lanka imposed a “Sinhala only” policy on the Tamil minority of the country.
  •  In the 1980s, a civil war was born as a consequence.
  • In Malaysia, following roughly similar policies, the Malay majority sidelined the Chinese minority.
  • Internal tensions and aggravations rose but, unlike Sri Lanka, a civil war did not.
  • The minorities pursued their interests by entering into coalitions with political parties within the larger parameters of the polity.

Consider the question “How the electoral aspect of the democracy can affect the non-electoral aspect of the democracy. What are the implications of such phenomenon for the democracy?”


This process can be called the battle between electoral democracy and constitutional democracy. Processes internal to the democratic system can severely weaken democracy itself, even causing its collapse.

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