India follows FPTP electoral system. There is lot of discussion going around, on social media and blogs, to consider a different electoral model befitting Indian democratic system. Countries in the other part of the world are implementing different models to enhance the quality and efficiency of the representation befitting their diverse cultures and communities to run their Government.
The choice of Electoral System is one of the most important institutional
decisions for any democracy. It institutionalises the political life of the country. The two most popular models are FPTP and PR. I am consolidating its advantages and disadvantages, along with its variants, here in this post which has been vastly researched and analysed by Ace Project ( http://aceproject.org). This entire thread is a consolidation of their research. If you have any questions or queries please visit their website for detailed clarification.
First Past The Post (FPTP)
The First Past The Post system is the simplest form of plurality/majority system, using single member districts and candidate-centred voting. The voter is presented with the names of the nominated candidates and votes by choosing one, and only one, of them. The winning candidate is simply the person who wins the most votes; in theory he or she could be elected with two votes, if every other candidate only secured a single vote.
Advantages of FPTP
First Past The Post, like other plurality/majority electoral systems, is defended primarily on the grounds of simplicity and its tendency to produce winners who are representatives beholden to defined geographic areas and governability. The most often cited advantages are that:
- It provides a clear-cut choice for voters between two main parties.
- It gives rise to single-party governments.
- It gives rise to a coherent opposition in the legislature.
- It excludes extremist parties from representation in the legislature.
- It allows voters to choose between people rather than just between parties.
- It gives a chance for popular independent candidates to be elected.
- Finally, FPTP systems are particularly praised for being simple to use and understand.
Disadvantages of FPTP
However, FPTP is frequently criticized for a number of reasons. These include:
- It excludes smaller parties from ‘fair’ representation.
- It excludes minorities from fair representation.
- It excludes women from the legislature, by male-dominated party structures.
- It can encourage the development of political parties based on clan, ethnicity or region.
- It exaggerates the phenomenon of ‘regional fiefdoms’.
- It leaves a large number of wasted votes which do not go towards the election of any candidate.
- It can cause vote-splitting.
- It may be unresponsive to changes in public opinion.
- Finally, FPTP systems are dependent on the drawing of electoral boundaries.
The Two-Round system (TRS)
The central feature of the Two-Round System is as the name suggests: it is not one election but takes place in two rounds, often a short time apart. The first round is conducted in the same way as a single-round plurality/majority election. In the most common form of TRS, this is conducted using FPTP. It is, however, also possible to conduct TRS in multi-member districts using Block Vote or Party Block Vote. A candidate or party that receives a specified proportion of the vote is elected outright, with no need for a second ballot. This proportion is normally an absolute majority of valid votes cast, although several countries use a different figure when using TRS to elect a president. If no candidate or party receives an absolute majority, then a second round of voting is held and the winner of this round is declared elected.
The details of how the second round is conducted vary in practice from case to case. The most common method is for it to be a straight run-off contest between the two highest vote winners from the first round; this is called majority run-off TRS. It produces a result that is truly majoritarian in that one of the two participants will necessarily achieve an absolute majority of votes and be declared the winner. A second method, majority-plurality TRS, any candidate who has received the votes of over 12.5 per cent of the registered electorate in the first round can stand in the second round. Whoever wins the highest number of votes in the second round is then declared elected, regardless of whether they have won an absolute majority or not. Unlike majority run-off, this system is not truly majoritarian, as there may be up to five or six candidates contesting the second round of elections.
Advantages of TRS
- First and foremost, TRS allows voters to have a second chance to vote.
- TRS can encourage diverse interests to coalesce.
- TRS lessens the problems of ‘vote-splitting’.
Disadvantages of TRS
- TRS places considerable pressure on the electoral administration and an additional burden on the voter.
- TRS shares many of the disadvantages of FPTP.
- One of the most serious problems with TRS is its implications for deeply divided societies.
Proportional Representation (PR)
The rationale underpinning all PR systems is to consciously reduce the disparity between a party’s share of the national vote and its share of the parliamentary seats if a major party wins 40 per cent of the votes, it should win approximately 40 per cent of the seats, and a minor party with 10 per cent of the votes should also gain 10 per cent of the legislative seats. This congruity between a party’s share of the vote and its share of the seats provides an incentive for all parties to support and participate in the system.
PR requires the use of electoral districts with more than one member: it is not possible to divide a single seat elected on a single occasion proportionally. There are two major types of PR system—List PR and Single Transferable Vote (STV). Proportionality is often seen as being best achieved by the use of party lists, where political parties present lists of candidates to the voters on a national or regional basis, but preferential voting can work equally well: the Single Transferable Vote, where voters rank-order candidates in multi-member districts, is another well-established proportional system.
There are many important issues which can have a major impact on how a PR system works in practice. The greater the number of representatives to be elected from a district, the more proportional the electoral system will be. PR systems also differ in the range of choice given to the voter—whether the voter can choose between political parties, individual candidates, or both.
Advantages of PR systems
In many respects, the strongest arguments for PR derive from the way in which the system avoids the anomalous results of plurality/majority systems and is better able to produce a representative legislature. For many new democracies, particularly those which face deep societal divisions, the inclusion of all significant groups in the legislature can be a near-essential condition for democratic consolidation. Failing to ensure that both minorities and majorities have a stake in developing political systems can have catastrophic consequences, such as seeking power through illegal means.
PR systems in general are praised for the way in which they:
- Faithfully translate votes cast into seats won.
- Encourage or require the formation of political parties.
- Give rise to very few wasted votes, depending on the threshold.
- Facilitate minority parties’ access to representation depending on the or the district magnitude.
- Encourage parties to campaign beyond the districts.
- Restrict the growth of ‘regional fiefdoms’.
- Lead to greater continuity and stability of policy.
- Make power-sharing between parties and interest groups more visible.
Disadvantages of PR systems
Most of the criticisms of PR in general are based around the tendency of PR systems to give rise to coalition governments and a fragmented party system. The arguments most often cited against PR are that it leads to:
- Coalition governments, which in turn lead to legislative gridlock and consequent inability to carry out coherent policies.
- A destabilizing fragmentation of the party system.
- A platform for extremist parties.
- Governing coalitions.
- Small parties getting a disproportionately large amount of power.
- The inability of the voter to enforce accountability by throwing a party out of power or a particular candidate out of office.
- Difficulties either for voters to understand or for the electoral administration to implement depending on voter’s education and training of poll workers.
In its most simple form, List PR involves each party presenting a list of candidates to the electorate in each multi-member electoral district Voters vote for a party, and parties receive seats in proportion to their overall share of the vote in the electoral district. Winning candidates are taken from the lists in order of their position on the lists. The choice of List PR does not in itself completely specify the electoral system: more details must be determined. The system used to calculate the allocation of seats after the votes have been counted can be either a Highest Average or a Largest Remainder Method. The formula chosen has a small but sometimes critical effect on the outcomes of elections under PR.
Advantages of List PR
- In addition to the advantages attached to PR systems generally, List PR makes it more likely that the representatives of minority cultures/groups will be elected.
- List PR makes it more likely that women will be elected.
Disadvantages of List PR
In addition to the general issues already identified relating to PR systems, the following additional disadvantages may be considered:
- Weak links between elected legislators and their constituents.
- Excessive entrenchment of power within party headquarters and in the hands of senior party leaderships—especially in closed-list systems.
- The need for some kind of recognized party or political groupings to exist.
The Single Transferable Vote (STV)
STV has long been advocated by political scientists as one of the most attractive electoral systems, but its use for legislative elections has been limited.
The core principles of the system were independently invented in the 19th century by Thomas Hare in Britain and Carl Andræ in Denmark. STV uses multi-member districts, and voters rank candidates in order of preference on the ballot paper in the same manner as under the Alternative Vote system. In most cases, this preference marking is optional, and voters are not required to rank-order all candidates; if they wish, they can mark only one.
After the total number of first-preference votes are tallied, the count then begins by establishing the quota of votes required for the election of a single candidate. The quota used is normally the Droop quota, calculated by the simple formula:
Quota = (votes / (seats +1)) +1
The result is determined through a series of counts. At the first count, the total number of first-preference votes for each candidate is ascertained. Any candidate who has a number of first preferences greater than or equal to the quota is immediately elected.
In second and subsequent counts, the surplus votes of elected candidates (i.e. those votes above the quota) are redistributed according to the second preferences on the ballot papers. For fairness, all the candidate’s ballot papers can be redistributed, but each at a fractional percentage of one vote, so that the total redistributed vote equals the candidate’s surplus (the Republic of Ireland uses a weighted sample instead of distributing fractions). If a candidate had 100 votes, for example, and their surplus was five votes, then each ballot paper would be redistributed according to its second preference at the value of 1/20th of a vote. After any count, if no candidate has a surplus of votes over the quota, the candidate with the lowest total of votes is eliminated. His or her votes are then redistributed in the next count to the candidates left in the race according to the second and then lower preferences shown. The process of successive counts, after each of which surplus votes are redistributed or a candidate is eliminated, continues until either all the seats for the electoral district are filled by candidates who have received the quota, or the number of candidates left in the count is only one more than the number of seats to be filled, in which case all remaining candidates bar one are elected without receiving a full quota.
Advantages of STV
The advantages claimed for PR generally apply to STV systems. In addition:
- STV is perhaps the most sophisticated of all electoral systems, allowing for choice between parties and between candidates within parties.
- STV also provides a better chance for the election of popular independent candidates.
Disadvantages of STV
The disadvantages claimed for PR generally also apply to STV systems. In addition:
- STV is sometimes criticized on the grounds that preference voting is unfamiliar in many societies, and demands, at the very least, a degree of literacy and numeracy.
- The intricacies of an STV count are quite complex.
- STV can at times produce pressures for political parties to fragment internally because members of the same party are effectively competing against each other, as well as against the opposition, for votes.
- STV can lead to a party with a plurality of votes nonetheless winning fewer seats than its rivals.
Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
Under MMP systems, the PR seats are awarded to compensate for any disproportionality produced by the district seat results. For example, if one party wins 10 per cent of the vote nationally but no district seats, then it will be awarded enough seats from the PR lists to bring its representation up to 10 per cent of the seats in the legislature.
The proportion of seats allocated according to the two elements of the system vary from country to country.
Although MMP is designed to produce proportional results, it is possible that the disproportionality in the single-member district results is so great that the list seats cannot fully compensate for it. This is more likely when the PR electoral districts are defined not at national level but at regional or provincial level. A party can then win more plurality/majority seats in a region or province than its party vote in the region would entitle it to. To deal with this, proportionality can be closely approached if the size of the legislature is slightly increased: the extra seats are called overhang mandates.
Advantages and Disadvantages of MMP
While MMP retains the proportionality benefits of PR systems, it also ensures that elected representatives are linked to geographical districts. However, where voters have two votes—one for the party and one for their local representative – it is not always understood that the vote for the local representative is less important than the party vote in determining the overall allocation of seats in the legislature. Furthermore, MMP can create two classes of legislators – one group primarily responsible and beholden to a constituency, and another from the national party list without geographical ties and beholden to the party. This may have implications for the cohesiveness of groups of elected party representatives.
In translating votes into seats, MMP can be as proportional an electoral system as pure List PR, and therefore shares many of the previously cited advantages and disadvantages of PR. However, one reason why MMP is sometimes seen as less preferable than straight List PR is that it can give rise to what are called ‘strategic voting’ anomalies.