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The issues with first-past-the-post electoral system
Sep 12, 2017

[GS Paper II: (Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.)]

Why in news?

  • The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, headed by MP Anand Sharma is deliberating on electoral reforms.
  • The Committee has sought the views of all political parties in the backdrop of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections held in March, 2017 where the BJP which got 39 % of the vote share won 312 seats, while the Samajwadi Party with 21.8 % votes got 47 seats and the Bahujan Samaj Party with 22.2 % got only 19 seats.
  • Some of the national parties such as Congress, NCP, CPI and CPI (M) have submitted to the committee that the existing first-past-the-post-system (FPTP) should be replaced with a hybrid format where elections for a small number of seats are conducted through proportional representation.

What is first-past-the-post system?

  • A first-past-the-post voting method is one of several plurality voting methods in which voters indicate on a ballot the candidate of their choice, and the candidate who receives most votes wins.
  • It is a very common feature of electoral systems with single-member electoral divisions and is widely practiced in close to one third of the world’s nations.
  • Some examples include the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, India etc.

What are the issues with FPTP?

  • Representatives can get elected with small amounts of public support, as the size of the winning margin is irrelevant: what matters is only that they get more votes than other candidates.
  • FPTP encourages tactical voting, as voters often vote not for the candidate they most prefer, but against the candidate they most dislike.
  • FPTP is regarded as wasteful, as votes cast in a constituency for losing candidates, or for the winning candidate above the level they need to win that seat, count for nothing.
  • The representation of minorities and women suffers in FPTP sysstem as the ‘safest’ looking candidate is the one most likely to be offered the chance to stand for election
  • In the 2009 elections, the BJP had 18.1% votes and could manage 116 seats in the Lok Sabha. While, in the 2014 elections, the Congress got 19.35% votes but could secure only 44 seats. Moreover, Parties together polling almost 50% of the votes were totally excluded from the legislature.
  • In fact, no ruling party has ever got 51% of the votes polled in general elections. In a way “minority democracy” has been ruling the country since independence.

What is a hybrid electoral system?

  • A hybrid system refers to an electoral system in which two systems are merged into one.
  • In such a system both proportional representation (PR) and FPTP is utilized.
  • The hybrid system, reportedly used for the first time in Zürich in 2006, is a method for adjusting an election's result to achieve overall proportionality.

Counterview

  • According to other political parties, the present system of election is working fine and that proportional representation is not workable as it might result in promoting interest groups.
  • Compared to PR, which can have accountability issues, FPTP makes accountability easier to enforce.
  • FPTP is also easier to understand and offers voters a clear choice. 

Way Forward

  • The recommendations of the Law Commission’s 170th and 255th report should be implemented. Both the reports had suggested that 25% or 136 more seats should be added to the Lok Sabha and be filled by proportional representation.
  • A dual system where separate votes for a candidate and a party could be considered. This system is also followed by various European countries like Germany and Hungary.
  • Experiences of other countries which have been following the system of proportional representation in addition to direct election should be studied to devise an effective system.
  • A true democracy cannot exist without reflecting majority aspirations. There is a need to devise a system which will ensure that the will of the people is reflected in a proper manner.


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