Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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FPTP and Proportional Representation have their weaknesses and strengths

Problems and Prospects of “First-Past-The-Post” as Determinant of People’s Mandate

Humans have come a long way. They had roamed, gathered, hunted for their survivals. However, the ever-evolving human brain capacity led him to make rational decisions unlike his animal counterparts. The sense organs were a gift which gave him the capacity to observe and learn about the mysteries of nature. Eventually, agriculture made him settle in a confined space territory limiting his roaming, gathering, hunting instincts. But, we can for sure say that those instincts are still with us and we tend to use them in flight or fight situations.  Settlement is, of course, a solution as well as a problem. Settlement and expansion of settlement is a major theme of many a history we study about the recent past. The never-ending progress of expansion of settlement had produced many great kings and emperors. Kingdoms were created. Empires were forged out of many different cultures. History remains a standing proof to this claim. The political achievements are illustrated in grandiose monuments, temples, palaces, cities, towns etc. We can recall a line by Genghis Khan which runs as “Conquering the world on a horseback is easy; dismounting and governing that is hard.”  We have seen a number a dynasty fall due to failure in its rights of primogeniture, or on account of mis-governance.

Ever since the origin of kingship, we have seen issues regarding the appointment of the next heir either through sheer merit or hereditary privileges. For centuries monarchy remained un-opposed as a legitimate form of government. And it was only in the early half of the second millennial CE that people slowly and gradually realized that monarchy isn’t as legitimate as it appears to be. But we can’t brush aside the early Athenians or the Greek society or the Roman society which shows some crude nature of democracy or rather aristocratic form of governance.

The Glorious Revolution in 1688 CE Britain, the French Revolution in 1789 France had changed the course of human history. Since then “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” have been the crying call of many agitations, movement, resistance or revolutions. With this, monarchical government slowly gave way to republican form of governments. However, the extent of rights exercise by a citizen in a particular country differs. But we can accept that democracy and election have been replacing many older forms of governance. It had even claimed its victory over the communist form of governance, with the balkanization of the erstwhile USSR in the 1990s. Advocates of democracy have been preaching it as the ultimate form of government.

By democracy, we try to follow a simple definition articulated on 1st of August 1858 by Abraham Lincoln as a form of the government “of the people, for the people, by the people.” So the role of people is confined to exercising their right in electing the representatives and on criticizing the elected representatives and their policies when need arises. Thus, democracy and election goes hand in hand.

Election has been described as a ‘festival of democracy’. We refuse to accept democracy without its festival. In fact election provide the citizens with a mechanism to change their representative if they failed to perform up to the expected bar. So in a free and fair election democratic country, its citizen is guaranteed the ‘right of adult franchise’. However, we should not forget that elections are only a part and parcel of a certain political system and not an exhaustive factor.

In India, the right of voting is given to any citizen who had attained a minimum age of 18 years and elections have been a part and parcel of our political system since the colonial period. Election is conducted for the Houses of Parliament, the State Assemblies, Legislative Councils, Local Self Governments. From the grass root level to the highest level, election is a key element of the selection procedure of the legislative branch. The Election Commission of India conducts the official elections in India since its inception in 25th of January 1950 at regular intervals, which is set a periodic cycle of 5 years. In order to claim any conducted election as a mirror image of popular mandate, we need to see the procedure of Delimitation and the Electoral System adopted by India since attaining the status of a Republic on the 26th of January, 1950; which is nearly seven decades ago. Apart from changes in delimitation, no effective changes have been adopted for the past seven decades.

DELIMITATION

Delimitations literally mean the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or province having legislative body. Countries may vary on considering factor for working its delimitation procedure, but three generally accepted principle is considered. They are

Representativeness

Equality of Voting Strength

Reciprocity.

In India, the job of delimitation is done by a high power body established by

Government of India, under the provisions of Delimitation Commission Act. The orders of the commission have the force of law and cannot be called in question before any court. These orders will come into force on a date specified by the President of India in this behalf. The copies of the order will be laid in the floor of the House of the People and the State Legislative Assembly concerned. But no modification is permitted therein by the legislative bodies. The action will be taken accordingly based on a recent census. Delimitation Commission had been constituted four (4) times – 1952, 1963, 1973 & 2002. Since 1976, delimitations had been suspended by the then Government so that state’s family planning programs would not affect the procedure. The suspension was in practiced till 2001. In the procedure of delimitation, the number of representatives from each state is not changed however the number of SC/ST representative may change accordingly to the referenced census.

The recommendation of the 2002 Commission was not implemented leading to the

interference of the Supreme Court in 2007. The apex court demanded the reasons for non-implementations. On 4th of July 2008, the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) decided to implement the recommendations. The delimitations of four north-eastern states were deferred due to security reasons. The states were Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur by a Presidential order on 28th February 2008. Assam was directed to implement delimitation on 28th of February 2020 and the remaining north eastern states along with Jammu and Kashmir on 6th March, 2020, all the four north-eastern states had been put to halt since March of 2022. Moreover, the Constitution of India was specifically amended in 2002, by the 84th Amendment, to postpone any interstate delimitation till 2026 on the basis of 2021 census.

ELECTORAL SYSTEM

Electoral system or Voting system is a set of rules that determine how elections and referendums are conducted and how the results are determined. Political electoral system is organized by government, and is defined by constitution and electoral laws. It is typically conducted by the Election commission. There are many variations in electoral system with the most common system being the First-pass-the-post voting (FPTP), Block Voting, the Two-Round (Run-off) System, Proportional Representation and ranked Voting. In some system, a missed system of both proportional and non-proportional system is used.

Plurality voting is a system in which the candidate with the highest number of votes wins. There is no requirement to get a majority of votes. In cases where there is a single position to be filled, it is known as the First-Pass-the-Post (FPTP). It is the second most used electoral system for national legislature, with 58 countries adopting it. The vast majority are the former British colonies. The phrase First-pass-the-post voting (FPTP) itself is a metaphor of British Horse racing, where there is a post at the finish line and the furthest ahead in the race wins it. There is no specific percentage “finish line” required to win in this system.  It is also the second most used for Presidential election. A total of 19 countries adopted it. In FPTP which is formally called Single Member Plurality (SMP) voting or informally called ‘choose one out of the group’ contrast to rank voting or score voting. A voter cast their vote only for one candidate of their choice and the candidate who receives the majority number of votes win, even if they get less than 50%. Getting less than 50% of the total vote is commonly seen in contest having two or more popular candidates to be chosen from.

Advocates of FPTP argue that the system is easy to understand. The ballots can more easily be counted and processed. It often produces government which has legislative voting majorities, thus providing the government the necessary legislative power to implement their electoral manifestoes during their term of office. This may be beneficial for the country in question where government’s legislative agendas have broad public support or at least benefit the society as whole. The supporters of this system also argue that proportional representation may enable smaller parties to become decisive in legislature and gain leverage they would not otherwise enjoy and FPTP reduces the chances of such. Tony Blair defended FPTP saying the other system may lead to small parties having ‘influences disproportionate to their votes.’ David Cameron cited a ‘a parliament full of second choices who no one really wanted but didn’t really object to either.’ Winston Churchill criticised other system as ‘determined by the worthless votes given for the second worthless candidates.’

Critics of FPTP system argues that it failed to reflect the popular vote in the number of parliamentary/ legislative seats awarded to competing parties. It failed to reflect the accurate views of the voters. It often creates a false majority by over-representing the majority party while under-representing the smaller ones. It only manufactures the majority by exaggerating the share of seat and penalised smaller ones specially having spatial dispersed support.  It also creates a situation of wasted votes- the votes which were casted for the losing candidates. On this basis a large majority of votes may play no part in determining the outcome. The winner takes all system may be one of the important reasons behind the low turnout of polling percentage in countries following FPTP system. It also encourages tactical voting. Voters may tend to vote for the candidate with probability of winning rather than the candidate desired to be voted. This gave media the substantial power to change the perception of the citizen in tactical voting. The candidate with the most media attention will be the most popular one. A new candidate with no track record may lose votes due to tactical voting. It may promote votes against instead of votes for. Under this system a small party may draw seat away from a ;arger party that it is more similar to and vice versa.

In India, Article 81 of the Constitution stipulates for FPTP. The Constituent Assembly

Took up the provision (draft article 67) for discussion on 4th of January, 1949. In the CA, members like Kazi Syed Karimuddin, K.T. Shah, Mahboob Ali Baig Sahib raised for a proportional representation with single transferrable voting system. They called the FPTP system as an undemocratic procedure and unrepresentative of the diverse ethnic socio linguistic background. However, the Assembly was held nearly seven decades ago, when the literacy rate of the country was only a meager 18.33 %. Therefore representatives like M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, Dr B.R. Ambedkar argued for FPTP considering the low literacy rate and the illiterate nature was not a suitable ground for adopting something like Proportional representation which shows an inherent advance nature compared to FPTP system. The British Parliament’s Royal Commission Report of 1910 was used by Ambedkar to stand for his claim. Regarding the rights of the minorities which Ambedkar stood for recklessly, he affirms that minorities’ interests were better safeguarded through reservation in parliament than the system of proportional representation. Ultimately the Assembly sided with Ambedkar and Ayyanagar on adopting FPTP.

But with time things have changed. The literacy rate has rocketed upto 74.45 in 2011 census and likely to increase further in the ongoing 2021 census. Moreover, post 2000 we have seen a nature of coalition governments, and absolute majority have not been attained by any of the national parties. Apart from constitutional reservations to SCs and STs, many marginalized minorities are being under-represented due to their own socio-economic backwardness.  In fact, if we follow the election campaigning in India closely, then elections are primarily fought on caste and religious lines, to avoid which the constitution maker had chosen FPTP over PR for they feared PR would lead to political parties being formed on sectarian grounds. However, the country today is as polarised as it can be minus the necessary safeguards for religious minorities. A democratic decision in order to be considered legitimate must include all those affected by it in the decision-making process. The FPTP system clearly violates this as minorities are not even accorded representation, forget about participation in the decision-making process. An electoral system skewed in favour of a majority is not conducive to a heterogeneous India, particularly when the Indian constitution also does not have political safeguards for religious minorities.

The Law Commission in its 170th report, submitted in 1999, recommended that India may combine the FPTP system with PR, modelled on the lines of the hybrid system followed in Germany. To that end, the report suggested an increase in the Lok Sabha seats by an additional 25% which could be filled by PR while the FPTP system would continue to be used as earlier for the existing seats. This proposal was reiterated by the Law Commission in its 255th report issued in 2015 though the government is yet to examine its proposals and take the next steps. Recently, after the state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh once again produced skewed results in favour of the leading party, an all-party parliamentary panel has started looking at alternatives to FPTP.

Even internationally, there is growing disenchantment with FPTP and many democracies including UK and Canada, are embracing PR. In fact, one of India’s closest neighbours, Nepal, has chosen a hybrid electoral system combining FPTP with PR.

Looking at the data of the 2017 general election of Manipur, the number of candidates who had crossed at least 50% of the total vote polled in their respective constituency amounts to only in 14 constituencies out of the total 60. Hence, the adoption of FPTP system, cannot establish the inclusiveness desired by democracy. Furthermore, a representative elected out of this system had at least half of the electorate voted against him. This is not a clear sign of a fair election

Democracy, in order to be legitimate, has to be inclusive and this cannot be sacrificed at

the altar of stability and simplicity. In India itself, there is a fast-growing recognition that the FPTP system may not completely fulfil the goal of representative democracy.

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