Election System In India


  • What are different methods of elections?
  • Who has the authority to conduct elections?
  • What are the rules about do’s and don’ts?
    • Why the constitution needs to write down the rules?
      • How the votes are to be counted?
      • How representatives are elected?
    • Isn’t that very obvious? People go and vote. The candidate who gets highest votes gets elected. That is what elections are all over the world.
    • Why do we need to think about it?
      • We need to, because this question is not as simple as it appears to us. We have got so used to our system of elections that we think that there cannot be any other way.

In a democratic election, people vote and their preference decides who will win the contest. But there can be very different ways in which people make their choices and very different ways in which their preferences can be counted. These different rules of the game can make a difference to who the winner of the game will be. Some rules can favor bigger parties; some rules can help the smaller players. Some rules can favor the majority community, others can protect the minorities.

First Past The Post System

In our country we follow a special method of elections. Under this system:

  • The entire country is divided into 543 constituencies;
  • Each constituency elects one representative; and
  • The candidate who secures the highest number of votes in that constituency is declared elected.

It is important to note that in this system whoever has more votes than all other candidates, is declared elected. The winning candidate need not secure a majority of the votes. This method is called the First Past The Post (FPTP) system. In the electoral race, the candidate who is ahead of others, who crosses the winning post first of all, is the winner. This method is also called the Plurality System. This is the method of election prescribed by the Constitution.

The votes that go to all the losing candidates go ‘waste’, for those candidates or parties get no seat from those votes. Suppose a party gets only 25 per cent of the votes in every constituency, but everyone else gets even less votes. In that case, the party could win all the seats with only 25 per cent votes or even less.

Proportional Representation

Let us compare this to how elections take place in Israel that follows a very different system of elections. In Israel once the votes are counted, each party is allotted the share of seats in the parliament in proportion to its share of votes.

Proportional Representation in Israel

Israel follows proportional representation system of election. Elections to the legislature (Knesset) take place every four years. Every party declares a list of its candidates, but voters vote for the party and not for the candidates. A party gets seats in the legislature in proportion to the votes polled by it. This allows even smaller parties with very small support base to get representation in the legislature. (A party must get a minimum of 1.5 per cent votes in order to be eligible to get seats in the legislature.) This often leads to a multi-party coalition government.

Each party fills its quota of seats by picking those many of its nominees from a preference list that has been declared before the elections. This system of elections is called the Proportional Representation (PR) system.

In this system a party gets the same proportion of seats as its proportion of votes.

In the PR system there could be two variations. In some countries, like Israel or Netherlands, the entire country is treated as one constituency and seats are allocated to each party according to its share of votes in the national election. The other method is when the country is divided into several multi-member constituencies as in Argentina and Portugal. Each party prepares a list of candidates for each constituency, depending on how many have to be elected from that constituency. In both these variations, voters exercise their preference for a party and not a candidate. The seats in a constituency are distributed on the basis of votes polled by a party. Thus, representatives from a constituency, would and do belong to different parties.

In India, we have adopted PR system on a limited scale for indirect elections. The Constitution prescribes a third and complex variation of the PR system for the election of President, Vice President, and for the election to the Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishads.

Comparison Of FPTP And PR System Of Election

FPTP : The country is divided into small geographical units called constituencies or districts.
PR : Large geographical areas are demarcated as constituencies. The entire  country may be a single constituency.

FPTP : Every constituency elects one representative.
PR : More than one representative may be elected from one constituency.

FPTP : Voter votes for a candidate.
PR : Voter votes for the party.

FPTP : A party may get more seats than votes in the legislature.
PR : Every party gets seats in the legislature in proportion to the percentage of votes
that it gets.

FPTP : Candidate who wins the election may not get majority (50%+1) votes.
PR : Candidate who wins the elections gets majority of votes.

FPTP : Examples: U.K., India.
PR : Examples: Israel, Netherlands.

How Does PR Work In Rajya Sabha Elections?

A third variant of PR, the Single Transferable Vote system (STV), is followed for Rajya Sabha elections. Every State has a specific quota of seats in the Rajya Sabha. The members are elected by the respective State legislative assemblies. The voters are the MLAs in that State. Every voter is required to rank candidates according to her or his preference. To be declared the winner, a candidate must secure a minimum quota of votes, which is determined by a formula:

( ( Total votes polled ) / (Total number of candidates to be elected + 1) ) + 1

For example if 4 Rajya Sabha members have to be elected by the 200 MLAs in Rajasthan, the winner would require [ (200 / (4 + 1) ) + 1 = 40 + 1 ] 41 votes.

When the votes are counted it is done on the basis of first preference votes secured by each candidate, of which the candidate has secured the first preference votes. If after the counting of all first preference votes, required number of candidates fail to fulfil the quota, the candidate who secured the lowest votes of first preference is eliminated and his/her votes are transferred to those who are mentioned as second preference on those ballot papers. This process continues till the required number of candidates are declared elected.

Why Did India Adopt The FPTP System?

If you have carefully read about the Rajya Sabha elections, you would have noticed that it is a complicated system which may work in a small country, but would be difficult to work in a sub-continental country like India.

The reason for the popularity and success of the FPTP system is its simplicity. The entire election system is extremely simple to understand even for common voters who may have no specialised knowledge about politics and elections. There is also a clear choice presented to the voters at the time of elections. Voters have to simply endorse a candidate or a party while voting. Depending on the nature of actual politics, voters may either give greater importance to the party or to the candidate or balance the two.

The FPTP system offers voters a choice not simply between parties but specific candidates. In other electoral systems, especially PR systems, voters are often asked to choose a party and the representatives are elected on the basis of party lists. As a result, there is no one representative who represents and is responsible for one locality. In constituency based system like the FPTP, the voters know who their own representative is and can hold him or her accountable.

More importantly, the makers of our Constitution also felt that PR based election may not be suitable for giving a stable government in a parliamentary system. This system requires that the executive has majority in the legislature. The PR system may not produce a clear majority because seats in the legislature would be divided on the basis of share of votes.

The FPTP system generally gives the largest party or coalition some extra bonus seats, more than their share of votes would allow. Thus this system makes it possible for parliamentary government to function smoothly and effectively by facilitating the formation of a stable government.

Finally, the FTPT system encourages voters from different social groups to come together to win an election in a locality. In a diverse country like India, a PR system would encourage each community to form its own nation-wide party. This may also have been at the back of the mind of our constitution makers.

The experience of the working of the Constitution has confirmed the expectation of the constitution makers. The FPTP system has proved to be simple and familiar to ordinary voters. It has helped larger parties to win clear majorities at the centre and the State level.

The system has also discouraged political parties that get all their votes only from one caste or community. Normally, the working of the FPTP system results in a two-party system. This means that there are two major competitors for power and power is often shared by these two parties alternately. It is difficult for new parties or the third party to enter the competition and share power. In this respect, the experience of FPTP in India is slightly different. After independence, though we adopted the FPTP system, there emerged a one party dominance and along with it, there existed many smaller parties. After 1989, India is witnessing the functioning of the multiparty coalitions. At the same time, gradually, in many States, a two party competition is emerging. But the distinguishing feature of India’s party system is that the rise of coalitions has made it possible for new and smaller parties to enter into electoral competition in spite of the FPTP system.

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Bibliography : NCERT – Indian Constitution At Work

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