More Seats With Little Vote Share? Why India Needs To Revamp Its Electoral Process

Posted by praveen krishnan A in Politics, Society
October 20, 2017

It is true that the first-past-the-post (FPTP or FPP) voting system has catered to the requirements of a diverse country like India to a large extent. Over the last 70 years, India has seen single-party rule, emergence of regional parties and coalition governments. The peculiarity of India’s democratic process lies in its simplicity. A glowing testimony to this fact has come from Hillary Clinton (former Secretary of State, USA and presidential candidate) who called it the ‘gold standard’.

However , scepticism has been expressed from various quarters regarding its effectiveness, because a political party which manages to secure a ‘decent’ vote-share (anywhere between 25% to 40%) ends up forming the government (alone or with coalition partners). A recent example is that of the BJP forming the government in the 2014 elections. With a 31% vote-share, it fetched 52% of the seats in the Lok Sabha. On the other hand, critics argue that anything short of 50% doesn’t amount to a majority or the people’s will.

This article doesn’t intend to check the merits of such criticisms. It only seeks to explore ways to  remove such discrepancies.

The Vibrancy Of The Indian Democracy

The ‘festivity’ surrounding India’s massive poll-exercises is one reason for its success. At a psychological level, there are the ‘unexpected outcomes’ of polls (both at the national and the local levels). The sense of being a part of such a big thing links the masses to India’s democracy.

Irrespective of whether the poor have enjoyed the fruits of India’s development or not, they continue  to participate. For the millions who don’t have a direct say in governance and policy-making, actively participating in the electoral preparations gives a sense of ‘accommodation’. Therefore, any suggestion aimed at revamping the FPP should factor in such feelings, that ensure the vibrancy and festivity – and doesn’t make the cumbersome process boring.

 Core Of The Issue Regarding FPP

The current electoral process is definitely that of selection – and selection becomes meaningful only in the presence of comparisons and alternatives. However, India’s FPP system allows individuals to only make a ‘single choice’ (NOTA is almost irrelevant in the present scheme of things).

In the present system, those votes polled for a candidate who didn’t get the maximum number are buried once and for all. Votes are nothing but choices – and we are actually dumping the choices of say 60% of the people, when we elect a political party which secures 40% votes (but gets the maximum number of seats). What if I want to suggest a second choice? What if I want my vote to be counted and be given due weightage?

Alternative 1: Fractional Voting

In this model, there will be as many choices for the electors as the number of candidates. But the value of the vote varies depending on whether a candidate has been chosen as a ‘first choice’, ‘second choice’ and so on.

For example, the value of the ‘first choice’ can be one, that of the ‘second choice’ can be half and that of the ‘third choice’ can be one-third. There can also be a ‘rejection vote’ which may carry a value of minus one, and which can be given to any candidate. The total value of the votes received by a candidate will be the weighted sum of all these values.

For illustration, consider an imaginary constituency with 100 electors and three candidates. Let us denote these candidates as A, B and C. During an election, let the outcome be as follows:

 

Candidate Name First Preference Vote Second Preference Vote Third Preference Vote Rejection Vote
             A              40            10 40 10
             B              35            35 30 0
             C              25            55 20 10

 

Here,

Value of votes polled for A= (40×1)+(10×0.5)+(40×0.3)+(10x-1)= 48.3

Value of votes polled for B= (35×1)+(35×0.5)+(30×0.3)= 62.5

Value of votes polled for C= (25×1)+(55×0.5)+(20×0.3)+(10x-1)= 49.1

Hence, B wins the election.

The advantage stems from the fact that irrespective of the variability of acceptance of a candidate by an elector, ‘every vote counts’ (be it a ‘third preference’ vote or a ‘rejection’ vote).This will prompt political parties to not just focus on their core supporters, but also reach out to those sections who can probably mark them as their second or third  choice or even reject them.

Alternative 2: Proportional Representation In A Second House

This option involves a substantial overhaul of the parliamentary system and can also be practised at the state level. As the title indicates, there shall be two houses for the state legislature. The elections to the popular house (the assembly) is to be conducted using Alternative 1 and the cumulative vote share of that outcome shall be utilised to fill the second house.

For example, let there be three political parties X,Y and Z. Suppose party X has won the mandate for the assembly, and Y has formed the Opposition in the lower house. Let’s suppose that Z , even after winning some votes (say 10%) doesn’t make it to the lower house (the assembly). In this scenario, even though parties X  and Y will occupy as many  seats as their percentage of votes in the legislative council (the upper house), Z will also get its due share as per the vote share (10% of seats in this case).

The members of the legislative assembly from X and Y will elect their representatives to the legislative council  – whereas for party Z, they will be nominated through a transparent process.The ‘permanent nature’ of the members of the legislative council will be altered to align it with the state elections – and only one-third of the seats will be filled in this manner. In other words, one-third of the members of the legislative council shall vacate the house once the tenure of the assembly is over.

The emphasis should be on the facts that every vote is counted and that every opinion is represented. Being represented at the higher forums will enable a reflection of the diversity – and the best part will be the strengthening of the Opposition.

The added advantages of strong dissenting voices will be tantamount to a shot in the arm, as regards accountability and honesty. More representation also equates to familiarising more individuals to the upper echelons of electoral polity. If a radical shift happens once to the political environment of the country, those assuming power will definitely have some experience – and we will always have a pool of talented, young, vibrant individuals.

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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Prasad Gori/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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