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Is The First-Past-The-Post Electoral System Making Our Votes Worthless?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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