This article is written by Vanshika Agarwal.
The present article looks into the unrepresentative character of the existing first-past- the-posť (FPTP) system in India and suggests an alternative model so that our democracy can be made more representative and meaningful. The FPTP system of election results in the victory of a candidate with a minority (less than 50% of votes polled) of votes which enables the candidate who gets the most votes (need not be a majority of total votes polled) to win an election in a multi-cornered contest. This implies that only a minority of voters who have voted for the victorious candidate get any representation at all. Thus, this paper seeks to examine other alternatives that best suit the needs of our country.
Electoral system can be described as the translation of votes casted by people in elections into seats won by parties and candidates. Different electoral systems yield different results and different forms of representation. The form of electoral system used in India for General Assembly Elections is First-past-the-post-system. In this system, each voter has a single vote. If a person in a constituency gets the highest number of votes, he/she wins. Here, the highest votes are in terms of “relative majority”, i.e., a person should score more than the best of opposition. Voting takes place in single member constituencies in India and on a categorical ballot. Categorical ballot is the one in which a person has to decide the candidate he prefers over all the other candidates.
Thus, it can be said that Indian Electoral System is first-past-the-post-system that takes place in single member constituencies on categorical ballot.
Merits and demerits of First past the post system
- Simplicity: First past the post system is quite simple as it allows people to choose between parties as well as candidates. This gives the voter an option to choose a candidate of his choice as opposed to choosing from a list of candidates presented by the party.
- Stability: This system is considered to be stable. The Supreme Court in RC Poudyal v. Union of India had categorised the FPTP system as possessing ‘the merit of preponderance of decisiveness over representativeness’. It presents the opportunity to form majority government which is quick and decisive. This ensures stability of power and quick implementation of policies.
- Strong Opposition: This system is responsible for giving rise to strong oppositions by virtue of Opposition getting enough seats to perform a critical checking role. This happens because both the winning and opposition party receive more seats in comparison to the share of their votes.
- More inclusive: This system allows for candidates who do not belong to any party to run for elections as independent candidates. Moreover, this system encourages parties to be diverse in their composition in order to appease to different societal groups, so that they can cater to different demands and aspirations of people living in different regions and conditions.
- Geographic accountability: This system is responsible for Parliament of geographic representatives. Since, people are elected from specific constituencies, they feel obligated to work for the welfare of the people as their re-election depends on these people only.
- Disproportionality: In first-past-the-post-system, there is disproportionality between number of votes won by parties and share of seats won by them. The party winning the seats does not necessarily have to be the one with the most number of votes, it just has to get more votes than the strongest opposition. Thus, the desires of the most of the population are not represented by this system. In this way, the votes are wasted.
In Indian history, never has the share of seats won by political parties matched the percentage of votes won by them. This disproportionality has been reflected in pretty much all the elections, where the Congress bagged 75% seats in Lok Sabha with 45%, 48% and 45% votes respectively in the years 1952, 1957 and 1962. Such is the condition of Indian Parliaments, where parties win due to inherent flaws present in the electoral system.
- Majority governments: This system tends to produce majority governments by over-rewarding major parties and under-rewarding smaller parties. As is evident from earlier example, majority governments emerge on minority votes. It can be said that majority governments are formed only against fragmented oppositions and there was a reverse in trend in 1977 when oppositions united into a composite entity. Thus, the same system that brought about stability was the reason behind instability and uncertainty.
- Excludes women and minorities from fair elections: This system tends to exclude women and minorities from fair elections. This happens because parties tend to put out the most acceptable and popular person as a candidate from a particular constituency. And because of societal problems and structures, these candidates seldom end up being women or minorities. It has serious implications because the composition of the Parliament suffers from serious problem of lack of representation of about 50% of the population of the country. This in turn has much more serious consequences because the laws that end up being made are devoid of the voices and experiences of these people and thus, biased and majoritarian in nature.
- Susceptible to manipulation: The candidates often indulge in vote-bank politics and sectoral politics to win elections or get re-elected. This leads to diversion from talking about issues of importance. The candidates only talk about issues that would rile up the public and thus, try to secure votes by appealing to their emotions and beliefs. This also ends up making people who hold minority views feel unsafe and dissatisfied. Growing intolerance can also be attributed to sectoral politics.
Thus, it is safe to say that the first-past-the-post electoral system, which is a remnant of Colonization, is problematic on various levels. Not only does it lead to disproportionality and exclusion of minorities and plurality of voices, but also its own advantages are countered by it. The elections after 1977, when coalition governments came into picture and the era was marked by presence of governments which could not even complete their terms, show that this system led to instability and insecurity. Thus, we need to find an alternative to this electoral system as its supposed merits are countered by it and it has many demerits which are uncharacteristic of a true democracy.
This system works behind the principle that representative government has to be truly, in essence, representative. It is practised in various forms in various countries but the principle remains the same. In this system, electors cast one vote for party or party lists, if it is a multi-member constituency and then, number of seats are allocated proportionally to parties based on their share of party votes. Under this system, a voter exercises two votes. He/she has to choose both the party and candidate on two separate ballot papers.
Even the law commission of India in its 170th and 255th Report suggested adoption of list system, which is a variant of proportional representation. The rationale given behind this suggestion was that it would lead to broad proportionality, stable government, extension of voter choice and maintenance of link between MP’s and geographical constituencies.
The main objections that are provided against this system are that:
1) it tends to encourage casteist and communal voting patterns, which in turn leads to the spread of religion and caste based communal parties;
2) the link between MP/MLA’s and their constituency is not present. Both of these contentions are ill-founded as:
- Section 158(4) of Representation of People’s Act, 1951, which talks about forfeiture of security deposit of party which fails to garner one-sixth of the total votes polled, will go a long way in curbing the menace of spread of caste and religion based political parties. This will happen because small parties which rely on communal votes would not be able to qualify to get seats in the Parliament due to lack of adequate votes by the niche population they cater to;
- the link between MP/MLA’s and constituency will not be missing as there will be two votes. One in favour of candidate from territorial constituency and one in favour of list put forward by political parties. The winner from territorial constituency will be given primacy provided the party he belongs to is able to qualify other considerations.
It is also pertinent to note that list systems would encourage the parties to put forward skilled and intelligent leaders, who will then be able to campaign throughout the State as opposed to one particular constituency. This would help in having good leaders in a particular party as no party would like to lose due to presence of criminal people in the party list. Moreover, it cannot be argued that Rajya Sabha or Legislative Councils serve the purpose of list system as the people electing these people are themselves voted on minority votes. Hence, they reflect their own biases and thus, Rajya Sabha ends up being a reflection of Lok Sabha itself.
Proportional representation, tries its best to be truly proportional, by curbing the inconsistency between the share of votes and seats. It ensures that smaller parties get representation and also, helps in bringing more women and minorities to contest for political power.
Case for Proportional Representation in India
Electoral Systems are embedded in country’s deeper political traditions and institutions and it is not easy to transform them, but when they fail to cater to the needs of the people, they should be changed as they go against the essence of the principles of democracy.
To make sure that there is political stability with equitable representation, there must be attempts to change the current electoral system as it leads to disharmony and inequality.
In India, switching to proportional representation as on the model of Germany, where mixed proportional system is practised with 50% seats allocated to MP’s from Constituencies and 50% seats allocated to MP’s from party lists (provided they are able to gain 5% of party votes), would help in solving the problems that currently grapples the country.
This would pave the way for wider electoral reforms like funding of elections by the State, which in turn would lead to decline in malpractices adopted by Political Parties to gain votes. The present system is the one “where the winner takes all”. It promotes communalism, use of muscle power and corruption. All of these are problems that we need to do away with.
A questions arises as to what will be the implications of adoption of German Electoral System in India. This system would help in making sure that majoritarian governments are not formed, as happened in the elections of 2014. This would also help in ensuring adequate representation as now people’s votes would actually be reflected in the results. Moreover, rules can be made to put women candidates in winnable positions in lists. The party lists can be formed to provide tickets to different sections and communities as well. This would help in doing away with the problem of minority representation. And if people feel represented enough, or feel that their voices are being heard and that they are able to identify with the people in power, they would turn up to vote more.
Thus, it is suffice to say that PR system tends to be more democratic and effective with fewer complains and greater voter turnout. “The rule of proportional representation has the three advantages of enabling Parliament to be “the mirror of the national mind”, of consolidating the state by ensuring that “minorities will not have grievances about their representation”, and ensuring that opposition in the House be based on large national issues”, and these precisely are the reasons as to why we need to adopt this system.
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