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First Past The Post vs. Proportional Representation


The results of the Lok Sabha elections were declared last week. The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has won 293 seats with a 43.3% vote share while the Opposition bloc INDIA (including Trinamool Congress) has secured 234 seats with a 41.6% vote share. Other regional parties and independents polled around 15% but ended up with only 16 seats in total.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the First Past the Post System?
  2. What is Proportional Representation?
  3. Way Forward

What is the First Past the Post System?

  • Definition: The First Past the Post (FPTP) system is used for elections to the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies in India. In this system, the candidate who receives more votes than any other candidate in a constituency wins the election.
  • Adoption in Democracies: This system is commonly used in countries like the U.S., the U.K., and Canada.
  • Advantages:
    • Simplicity: It is straightforward and easy to implement, especially in a large country like India.
    • Stability: FPTP tends to provide greater stability to the executive branch in a parliamentary democracy, as it allows the ruling party or coalition to hold a majority in the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly without needing more than 50% of the votes across all constituencies.
  • Issues:
    • Representation: FPTP can lead to over or under-representation of political parties relative to their share of the vote. For instance, after India’s independence, the Congress party won nearly 75% of seats in the Lok Sabha with only 45-47% of the vote share, as shown in past elections.

What is Proportional Representation?

  • Definition: The Proportional Representation (PR) system allocates seats to political parties based on their share of the vote. The most common form is ‘party list PR,’ where voters vote for parties rather than individual candidates. Parties then receive seats in proportion to their vote share.
  • Eligibility: Typically, a party must secure a minimum of 3-5% of the vote to be eligible for seats.
  • Application in India:
    • Federal Implementation: Ideally, PR should be applied at each State/Union Territory (UT) level in India.
    • Election Results Example: Applying PR to the 2024 election results would have led to different seat distributions across states. For example, in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, the NDA would have secured 23 seats instead of 64, reflecting their 62%, 60%, and 53% vote shares, respectively. Similarly, the INDIA bloc would have had representation in Tamil Nadu with a 47% vote share, unlike the current FPTP system where they secured all 39 seats.
  • Criticisms:
    • Instability: PR could lead to instability, as no single party or coalition may secure a majority to form the government.
    • Proliferation of Parties: It may result in the formation of numerous political parties based on regional, caste, religious, and linguistic lines, potentially promoting divisive voting patterns. However, the current FPTP system has also not prevented such formations.
Balancing Stability and Representation
  • Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR): This system combines elements of FPTP and PR. Under MMPR, one candidate is elected through the FPTP system from each territorial constituency, with additional seats filled based on the parties’ percentage of votes. This approach aims to balance the need for stable governance with fair representation.

International Practices

  • Presidential Democracies: Countries like Brazil and Argentina use the party list PR system for elections.
  • Parliamentary Democracies: Nations such as South Africa, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain also employ the party list PR system.
  • Germany: Utilizes the Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR) system. In the Bundestag (equivalent to Lok Sabha), 50% of the 598 seats are filled from constituencies under the FPTP system, while the remaining 50% are allocated to parties that secure at least 5% of the vote, based on their vote share.
  • New Zealand: Out of 120 seats in the House of Representatives, 60% are filled through the FPTP system from territorial constituencies. The remaining 40% are allocated to parties with at least 5% of the vote.

Benefits: This system aims to balance stability in a parliamentary democracy with proportional representation, ensuring that all parties are represented according to their vote share.

Way Forward

  • Law Commission’s Recommendation: In its 170th report (1999), the Law Commission recommended experimenting with the MMPR system. It suggested that 25% of seats could be filled through a PR system by increasing the strength of the Lok Sabha.
  • Federal Consideration: The report recommended implementing the PR system at each State/Union Territory (UT) level, considering India’s federal structure.
  • Delimitation Exercise: The next delimitation exercise for increasing the number of seats is due after the first Census conducted post-2026. The population growth over the past five decades has been uneven across regions, making proportional seat allocation based solely on population potentially problematic and against federal principles.
  • Proposed Approach: In the event of increasing seats during the delimitation exercise, the MMPR system could be used for incremental seats or at least 25% of total seats filled from each State/UT. This approach could address concerns of southern, northeastern, and smaller states in the northern region, mitigating the dominance of larger states that would otherwise gain more seats through the FPTP system alone.

-Source: The Hindu

June 2024