Election System in India: Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha

Election System in India

In the previous article, we deliberately discussed the elections to Rajya Sabha, which is conducted through a very complex method of election, called the Proportional Representation system. In this article, we’d be having an in-depth discussion on the election system in India. India follows the First Past the Post System of elections for the conduct of general (Lok Sabha) elections and a variant of the Proportional Representation system called the single transferrable vote (STV) system for the conduct of Rajya Sabha elections.

Election System in India
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Lok Sabha Elections: First Past the Post System

The First Past the Post system of elections is quite simple and good for large countries like India and the USA. In the First Past the Post System-

Election System in India
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  • The entire country is divided into various constituencies. During general elections, India is divided into 543 constituencies.
  • Every constituency elects one representative each.
  • In each constituency, different political parties put forward their candidate to contest elections. The candidate who gets the highest number of votes is declared elected. In order to become the representative of that particular constituency, a candidate need not secure the majority of votes, rather, he just has to secure more votes than all the other candidates of different political parties contesting the election from that constituency.
  • This is known as the First Past the Post system, as the candidate who crosses the winning post first, gets elected.
  • First Past the Post system is also called the Plurality System.

Many people also point out that the First Past the Post system is not fair. Why? Let’s understand with an example-

Votes and Seats won by some major parties in the Lok Sabha Election of 1984

Congress 48.0 415
BJP 7.4 2
Lok Dal 5.7 3
CPI (M) 5.7 22
Telugu Desam 4.1 30
DMK 2.3 2
AIADMK 1.6 12
Akali Dal 1.o 7
AGP 1.0 7

Well, you could see yourself why this system of election is very unfair, as the Indian National Congress, which got 48% of the votes, got 76% of the total seats. Similarly, Telugu Desam Party, which got 4.1% of the votes, got 5.5% of seats. On the other hand, the BJP, which got 7.4% of the votes, got just 0.3% of the seats. Extremely unfair for the BJP, isn’t it. Well, BJP has settled the scores now, especially after the 2019 general elections! So, this is indeed a serious concern, as in the FPTP system, various parties, especially the ones who form the government, tends to get more number of seats than their share of votes justify. But what if  I tell you that this is indeed beneficial for various countries, especially big ones like India? You’ll understand yourself after reading the article completely.

Election System in India
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After understanding the Proportional Representation system, you’ll understand one more reason why our constitution framers prescribed this election system in India for the conduct of general elections.

Proportional Representation System:

In the Proportional Representation (PR) system-

  • Contrary to the FPTP system, in the PR system, the entire country is treated as a single constituency or is either divided into several multi-member constituencies for the conduct of general elections.
  • After elections, every political party is allotted the share of seats in the parliament in proportion to its share of votes.
  • Each party fills its quota of seats in the Legislature by picking those many of its nominees from a preference list that has been declared before the elections.

Single Constituency

In countries like Israel and Netherlands, the entire country is treated as a single constituency during the general elections. After the general elections, each party gets the same proportion of seats as its proportion of votes.

Let’s assume that the Parliament of the Netherlands has 100 seats, and four different political parties are contesting each other in the general elections. So, after the elections-

  • Party A gets 28% of votes
  • Party B- 34%
  • Party C- 25%
  • Party D- 13%

As we know that each party gets the same proportion of seats as its proportion of votes, so, Party A would get 28 seats, Party B- 34 seats, Party C- 25 seats, Party D- 13 seats. Well, this is quite fair!

Multi-Member Constituencies

In countries like Argentina and Portugal, the country is divided into several multi-member constituencies for the conduct of general elections. Each party prepares a list of candidates for each constituency, depending on how many have to be elected from that constituency. After the elections, seats in each constituency are distributed on the basis of votes polled by a party.

Election System in India
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So, unlike the FPTP system, where each constituency has a single representative, in the PR system with multi-member constituencies, each constituency has more than 1 representative, who belongs to different political parties. So, this is not very convenient for the people of that constituency as there isn’t one particular representative who is responsible to the people and whom people can hold accountable.

So, in the proportional representation system, voters exercise their preference for the political party, instead of a particular candidate, as voters aren’t given the choice of candidates. And the Proportional Representation system could also lead to political instability.

Elections to Rajya Sabha 

Our constitution framers prescribed the First Past the Post election system in India for the conduct of general (Lok Sabha) elections. However, for the Rajya Sabha elections, our constitution prescribes a special and complex variant of the Proportional Representation system, called the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system.

Rajya Sabha or the Council of States consists of 245 members. Out of these 245 members, 233 are elected by the State Legislative Assemblies (Vidhan Sabhas) and 12 members are nominated by the President of India. These 12 members are the people who have done an exceptional job in the fields of art, literature, science, and social services. The Rajya Sabha was established to enhance the representation of states in the Parliament of India.

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In Rajya Sabha, each state is allotted a quota of seats. The members of each state are elected by the respective State Legislative Assemblies (Vidhan Sabha). Voters are the MLAs (Member of Legislative Assembly) of that state. Every voter is required to rank candidates according to his/her preference. To be declared winner, a candidate must secure a minimum quota of votes, which is determined by the formula-

{Total votes polled/total number of candidates to be elected+1}+1

For example, if 5 MLAs have to be elected from the 300 MLAs of a state, then, in order to be declared the winner, a candidate must secure {300/5+1}+1 votes. i.e. 51 votes. When the votes are counted, it is done on the basis of first preference votes secured by each candidate. The candidate who secures the required number of first-preference votes is declared elected. And even after counting all the first preference votes, the required number of candidates fails to fulfill the quota of seats allotted, the candidate who secured the lowest number of first preference votes would be eliminated, and his/her votes are transferred to those who are mentioned as a second-preference on those ballot papers. This process continues till the required number of candidates are declared elected.

Why India chose the First Past the Post System?

The complexity of the PR system

How much time did you take to fully understand the system of Rajya Sabha elections? Exactly. It’s the complexity of the Proportional Representation system which made the constitutional framers prefer the FPTP election system in India. It would be difficult for any individual who isn’t literate enough or does not have prior knowledge of politics and elections, to understand this system of elections.

Our constitution framers debated that should the constitution grant every individual voting rights, irrespective of his educational qualifications? The consensus was made that the state recognizes every individual to be capable to understand what’s good for his constituency, state, and nation. Moreover, when the British left India, the literacy rate was a mere 12%. So, choosing the PR election system in India would be contradictory, as the majority of the people were not literate enough to comprehend such a complex system of election in India.

Election System in India
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So, our leaders choose the First Past the Post election system in India for the conduct of general elections because it was extremely simple for the people to understand and they don’t need any prior political knowledge for comprehension.

Clear cut choice to the voters

In the Proportional Representation system, voters exercise their preference for a particular political party, instead of a particular candidate. So, they don’t really get to choose their representative, as the representatives are nominated by the party from a preference list declared before elections. In the case of multi-member provinces, there is no single representative from a single political party who is responsible to the people and whom the people can hold accountable.

Contrary to this, in the FPTP system, people of each constituency elect one representative. They are given the clear-cut choice between different political parties and between different candidates. According to the contemporary political situation, people can exercise their preference either for the political party or a particular candidate. And every person in the constituency knows who his/her representative is and can hold him/her accountable.

Political Instability

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT
Image by- The Himalayan Times

One of the major drawbacks of the PR system is the intense political instability caused by it. The numbers mentioned in the example given, where party A gets 28% of votes..etc, aren’t hypothetical, but more or less the same in countries following PR system, and it’s very difficult for any single political party to get a clear majority. Especially in Israel, which experienced 4 national elections in the last two years! And the government was finally formed with different political parties, which aren’t even ideologically similar to each other, coming together in a coalition. Moreover, Israel would also see two prime ministers in the next five years.

At the same time, the FPTP system paves the way for political stability in the country, as seats aren’t divided on the basis of votes polled. FPTP system generally tends to give some extra bonus seats, more than their share of votes justify, to the political party, alliance or coalition which gets the majority. This leads to the formation of a stable government, which is able to take the necessary and strong decisions, and is able to work smoothly for the period of five years.

Political Polarization

The PR system is good for countries like Portugal and Netherlands, but surely not good for India, which is extensively diverse. For example, PR system would encourage people from different communities, religious or linguistic, to form their own nation wide political party. Hence, there’d be a Hindu party, whose only objective would be to corner Hindu votes, same would be done by Muslims, Christians etc. And all of these parties would get a significant share of seats in the Lok Sabha, and these seats would be won by causing intense religious, linguistic polarization, causing hatred and even riots.

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But at the same time FPTP system encourages people from different communities to come together and win an election in a locality and discourage political parties to get all the votes from a particular community or caste.

Interested in Polity?

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