The First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system is currently in use in India. To win an election under this system, a candidate must receive more votes than their opponent. In its 2015 report, the Law Commission recognised that FPTP was no longer appropriate for Indian democracy.
Although this approach has some advantages, it does not appear to be working at the moment. For instance, despite receiving only 31% of the votes in 2014, the BJP won almost 50% of the seats in the Lok Sabha.
It suggests that under FPTP, it is easy to overlook the interests of minorities and parties can persuade other voters to assist them to win elections, which is undemocratic and unrepresentative of India’s diverse identities.
Several arguments have been offered in favour of the FPTP, one of which is that the system allows parties to position candidates based on constituency preferences, giving local influence over the candidate. However, in reality, parties nominate individuals who have a flair for influencing the dominant community for votes, ignoring the minorities’ goals and interests.
In addition, the Lok Sabha elections revealed that 90% of parliamentarians are Hindus, with the majority of them belonging to the upper caste. This opens the door to vote-bank politics, which promotes divisive election tactics. FPTP fails to represent the various shades of political opinion. Often the party supported by the majority of the population does not win the election.
For instance, in 2014, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) recorded the third-largest share of votes (4.2%) across the country but didn’t win a single seat.
Furthermore, since 1977, the number of political parties has increased, lowering the bar for a candidate’s win at the state level. Whereas at the national level, the number of new political parties has decreased because the FPTP tends to produce two large parties, which hinders the entry of smaller parties. BJP and Congress are the two largest parties in the country right now.
It’s important to understand that altering an electoral system in a country like India will be difficult, although there are examples of successful institutional transformations.
Papua New Guinea alternated between two voting systems, i.e. when it was an Australian territory, it used the ranked-choice voting method, but from 1975 to 2002, it switched to FPTP. This was later changed to a ranked-choice voting system due to the disadvantages of FPTP.
India is better suited for a ranked-choice voting system because votes in this system are not wasted since voters rank their choices, unlike in a first-past-the-post voting system, where a vote for a candidate with a slim probability of winning is likely to be a waste.
Although, SY Qureshi has criticised other electoral alternatives, saying that a victory by even one vote is a valid victory. But we must understand that, as previously mentioned, this system has largely produced unfavourable outcomes.
Also, ranked-choice voting enables the diverse votes to accumulate, so inter-related interests can be enjoined to win the elections. Furthermore, this system gives a chance to less influential candidates to be elected via ranking preferences. For this, it is a must for candidates to cover the broad interests of every community rather than specific ones to win the elections.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) and India have a lot in common, despite their many differences. PNG has thousands of clan and tribal groupings speaking over 850 different languages, while India shares a similar diversity, however, it is in terms of caste, religion, and languages. Therefore, I believe that a case study of PNG is necessary before adopting a rank-choice voting system in India.
Candidates in PNG were unable to engage in vote bank politics because they required a majority of votes, which could only be obtained by addressing the concerns of other groups. The same problem of vote bank politics will be solved in India if this system is used instead of FPTP.
In addition, when the FPTP system was reintroduced in PNG, candidates realised that they no longer had to look after the interests of the minority communities, which led to increasing electoral violence. There was an increase in corruption, power and money politics which led to a range of negative campaign tactics. All these instances culminated in the re-introduction of the ranked-choice voting system.
Also, the PNG case study demonstrates how the electoral system is influenced by societal structure. A strong sense of accountability emerged among local members to their electorate under the Alternate Vote (AV) system, which can also be replicated in India.
Although no election system is perfect, the advantages of ranked-choice voting are numerous. Even if the Indian Constituent Assembly chose FPTP, the time has come to move away from it. AV is presently used in Australia, Fiji, and PNG. Thus, it is a good example of the regional diffusion of electoral systems.
India is a vast country with several constituencies and shares many similarities with PNG. The usage of AV in PNG illustrates that this system encourages inter-ethnic accommodation and moderation in a divided community by allowing voters to rank their preferences instead of casting a single vote. Therefore, I believe a ranked-choice voting system would be appropriate for India.