Essay on the Five Different Methods of Choosing the Head of the State



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It is true that a hereditary executive carries with it certain manifest advantages, but the idea of monarchical government is so distasteful in this age that it now assumes only an academic interest. Its ultimate disappearance will doubtless follow in the course of political evolution in the future. Even in Britain survival of monarchy is being widely discussed.

Direct Popular Election. The choice of the Chief Executive by the direct vote of the people is the opposite principle of the hereditary method. This method is the vindication of the principle of popular sovereignty. It grants the people the right to elect their Chief Executive who should represent their will and enjoy their confidence.

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But, in spite of its popular appeal, the method of direct election has been sparingly adopted in practice. The framers of the American Constitution ruled it out for various considerations. They desired to establish a method which would, as Hamilton put it, “afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder”, and did not “convulse the community with any extraordinary and violent movements.”

They, accordingly, adopted a plan of indirect election. But, in point of fact, this intention on the part of the framers has been completely defeated, since the system created has been so worked in practice as to establish what election is in effect by popular vote.

France adopted direct election at the establishment of the Second Republic in 1848, but abandoned it when the Third Republic was established. In the recent past, France under the Fifth Republic, some of the Latin American States and the former Democratic German Republic deliberately adopted it.

But the method is in frequent use in the selection of the “Chief Magistrates” of the territorial divisions of modern States as, for example, the Governors of the constituent states of the United States of America, and of the local executives of the Swiss Cantons.

Many advantages are claimed for the direct mode of electing the Chief Executive. The method of popular election, it is maintained, is more distinctly in accord with the modern ideas of popular government, as it secures the responsibility of the executive directly to the people.

When the people themselves have to determine who the Chief Executive should be, they minutely evaluate the merits and virtuous qualities of each candidate seeking election and the final choice falls on a man in whose ability and integrity they have faith. Such a system stimulates interest in public affairs, affords a means of the political education of the masses and presents the example of a government by the people.

But there are some serious objections to this mode of popular choice. The masses are incompetent judges for electing so high a personage as the head of the State. The electors can easily be influenced by the demagogue, who always tries to play with their emotions, and the popular choice may not be the best. Moreover, periodical elections of the Chief Executive of the State create political tension and excitement in the country.

Political rivalry, factious intrigues and often corrupt methods employed by the party machines account for general demoralisation. “As soon as one candidate is elected, those who aspire to succeed him proceed to canvas the people. Party feeling is perpetuated and at election time it often becomes very bitter; it may even lead to foreign intrigue.”

Hamilton feared that direct election would “convulse the community with extraordinary and violent movements and lead to heats and ferments” that would disturb public tranquility. Popular election of the Chief Executive under the parliamentary system produces a radical change in the character of public life.

The Chief Executive becomes the standard bearer of a party or a combination of parties. He could hardly be expected to maintain, under these circumstances, the mediating role as head of the nation.

If he is popular and commands the respect of the people, he may use his position and authority to the detriment of the party in power in case of disagreement between the two and even make a bid to become a hero. If ever it happens, even perchance, it shall be destructive of parliamentary democracy.

Indirect Election:

Indirect election is more common. It involves/ election by an electoral college elected by the people. In theory, the President of the United States of America is elected by an electoral college in which every State has as many representatives as it has in both the Houses of Congress. The method of indirect election claims the advantage of avoiding the heats, tumults and convulsions of direct election.

The choice of electing the executive head is left in the hands of persons who are better qualified to judge than the masses. When the final choice rests with a small body of representatives, the selection is likely to be intelligent.

“It was desirable,” maintained Hamilton, “that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analysing the qualities adapted to the station. A small number of persons selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicate an investigation.”

But all this is a mere theory. The elections are indirect only in name. The immediate representatives, who constitute an electoral college, give little evidence of independence of character and judgment. In almost every country, where political parties are highly organised, the electors are chosen on party pledges to vote for the party’s candidate.

They hold a definite mandate and are mere party agents with no discretion to exercise their votes. The election of the President in the United States has not only become direct in practice, but it has now assumed the form of an important national pageant. “It is an operation of the first magnitude putting at stake the ambition of individuals, the interest of classes, and the fortunes of the entire country.”

Nearly everybody in America, from the President in the White House to the man in the street, interests himself in it. It is a momentous event which involves nationwide propaganda and entails an expenditure of millions of dollars on publications, meetings, “rounding up delegates” and “seeing that the goods are delivered.” Thus, what was intended to be a scheme of indirect election of the Chief Executive has become in reality a system of direct election?

Election by the Legislature:

Election by the legislature is another type of indirect election. The Constitution of India provides that the President of the Republic shall be

elected by an electoral college consisting of the members of both Houses of Parliament and the elected members of the legislatures of the states.

The President of France, according to the Constitution of 1875, was elected by the National Assembly consisting of two Houses of the legislature the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies sitting in a joint session at Versailles. Under the Fourth Republic, too, the President was chosen at a joint meeting of both Houses. In Switzerland, the Federal Executive Council is elected by the Federal Legislature.

The idea underlying this method of election is that selection should be made by those who are best qualified to exercise their judgment in public affairs. The members of the legislature are sure to make a wiser selection than the general mass of voters or intermediate electors constituting an electoral college.

Being actively concerned with public affairs and intimately acquainted with the public careers of the statesmen, the members of the legislative assemblies are, of all the persons, more qualified to choose the best man for this august office. This method ensures greater harmony and cooperation between the legislative and executive departments, thereby avoiding all possibilities of friction between the two.

But election of the Executive Head by the legislature is a negation of the theory of the Separation of Powers. When the Executive Head is elected by the legislature, he becomes its nominee, and this may lead to political bargains, intrigues and jobbery.

“It would be in the power of an ambitious candidate,” observed Judge Story, “by holding reward of office, or other sources of patronage and honour silently but irresistibly to influence a majority of voters and thus by his own hold and unprincipled conduct to secure choice, to the exclusion of the highest and purest and most enlightened men in the country.”

Such a method of election is sure to impair the independence of the Chief Executive and make him subservient to the will of the legislature. It, also, seriously interferes with the normal functions of the legislature, particularly at times of great and exciting contests.

This may not only lead to unnecessary waste of parliamentary time and energy, but also gives “a party colouring to the consideration of many measures which are in reality non-partisan in character.”

There is, however, no doubt that the system of election of the Chief Executive by the legislature has given excellent results wherever it has been experimented with. In all these countries the election of the President takes place with little or no popular disturbance. The modern tendency is, accordingly, in favour of election by a legislature.

Nominated Executive:

Nominated executive, for the most part, exists in dependencies of some great powers. The Governor-General, during the British rule in India, was a nominated executive. Similarly, the Governor-General of Korea was appointed by the Emperor of Japan and the Imperial Diet.

The choice of the incumbent of the office is made on the basis of his qualifications and special fitness for the job which he is called upon to supervise.

The Governor-General of Canada as well as that of Australia was appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendations of the Governments of their respective States from amongst Englishmen in public life, or the nationals of their own countries.

These countries had preferred such a method of appointment themselves and it did not make them subordinate to Britain. Both Canada and Australia are sovereign States.

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