In India, all key representatives except President, Vice President, Members of Rajya Sabha and Members of state legislative council are elected via FPTP system.
In recent times, questions have been raised as in 2014 election, NDA won only 31% of the total votes cast and that, therefore, 69% of those who voted did not vote in favor.
Due to this system, the groups of parties which managed to get less than 50% of the total votes polled have managed to get more than 75% of the total seats in the parliament.
The argument is that due to FPTP, certain groups of people will never get a share in the power structure.
During the drafting of the Constitution, various systems of proportional representation were considered, but the FPTP system was eventually adopted to avoid fragmented legislatures and to facilitate the formation of stable governments.
Used by not just India, but also many other major democracies like the US, UK and Canada.
Since the Indian system is so much inspired from these three, it is not surprising that the Indian framers went for a more tried and tested system.
A first-past-the-post (abbreviated as FPTP) is one of several plurality voting methods.
Also known as ‘Winner-Takes-All’, this system is easy to understand and results of election can be determined quickly.
In this voting takes place in single-member constituencies.
Voters put a cross in a box next to their favoured candidate and the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins.
All other votes count for nothing.
It is a common, but not universal, feature of electoral systems with single-member electoral divisions; in fact, first-past-the-post voting is widely practiced in close to one third of the world’s countries.
Merits of FPTP system
FTPT is useful because it is simple to use and easy to understand.
The most significant advantage of the FPTP system is its uncomplicated nature using single-member districts and candidate-centred voting.
It provides clear-cut choice for voters between two main parties.
Moreover, the FPTP system allows voters to choose between people as well as parties, with voters having the opportunity to assess the performance of a candidate rather than having to accept a list of candidates presented by a party, as under the list system.
It gives a chance for popular independent candidates to be elected.
The FPTP system has been known for stability in the electoral system of India.
The Supreme Court in RC Poudyal v. Union of India (1994) had categorized the FPTP system as possessing ‘the merit of preponderance of decisiveness over representativeness’.
This implies that the FPTP system presents the advantage of producing a majority government at a general election by being decisive, simple and familiar to the electorate.
This, at least in theory, assures stable terms for the party in power, with the requisite numbers in the House to ensure implementation of its policies.
In practice, India has seen both stable majority and unstable coalition governments under the FPTP system, indicating that it is not this factor alone that assures the stability of the electoral system in India.
FPTP system encourages political parties themselves to have more broad-based participation.
Moreover, it ensures that there is a link between a constituency and its representative in the legislature, and incentivizes representatives to serve their constituents well.
Demerits of FPTP
The principal criticism leveled against the FPTP system is that it leads to the exclusion of small or regional parties from the Parliament.
There is commonly a discrepancy in the vote share and seat share in results, where votes given to smaller parties are ‘wasted’ since they do not gain a voice in the legislature.
FPTP system, which boasts of the fact that it provides a majoritarian (and hence more democratic) government, is itself not able to adequately uphold majoritarianism in a multiparty system, since the winning candidate wins only about 20-30% of the votes.
For example, the Indian National Congress won only about 49.10% of the total vote share in the 1984 General Elections to the Lok Sabha, but had a sweeping majority of 405 out of 515 seats in the House.
Smaller parties, when they have a broad base across constituencies, rather than a concentrated following in a few constituencies, may fail to win even a single seat even if their vote share is significant.
It often encourages caste, religion, Ethnicity and regional politics.
It also exaggerates the phenomenon of ‘regional fiefdoms.
Both electoral systems (Proportional Representation and FPTP) come with their own merits and demerits – proportional representation theoretically being more representative, while the FPTP system being more stable.
It can be suggested from the experience of other countries to follow a hybrid pattern combining elements of both direct and indirect elections.