Elections to Rajya Sabha: Proportional Representation System

Elections to Rajya Sabha

How are general (Lok Sabha) elections held in India? Very simple question, isn’t it? So is the system of elections in India, very simple, as India follows the system of First Past The Post (FPTP). This system of elections is simple, the entire country is divided into several constituencies (India is currently divided into 543 constituencies). Every constituency elects one representative each. The candidate which gets the highest number of votes in that constituency is declared the winner. A party, coalition, or alliance which wins in the majority of constituencies (273) forms the government. This is how the elections to Lok Sabha are held. But, how are elections to Rajya Sabha held? The system followed in the Rajya Sabha elections isn’t simple and quite complex. In this article, we’d be discussing the elections to Rajya Sabha.

Elections to Rajya Sabha
Image by- The Indian Express

Generally, two systems of elections are followed to conduct elections in democratic countries around the world.

  • First Past the Post System
  • Proportional Representation System

We’ve already discussed the FPTP system. Before understanding the elections to Rajya Sabha, let’s first understand the proportional representation system-

Elections to Rajya Sabha: Proportional Representation System (PR)
Elections to Rajya Sabha
Image by- Electoral Reform Society

In the Proportional Representation system, contrary to the FPTP system, the entire country is treated as a single constituency or is divided into several multi-member constituencies. And each political party is allocated a share of seats in the Parliament in proportion to its share of votes, i.e. in proportion to the votes polled by them.

Single Constituency

In countries like Israel and Netherlands, the entire country is treated as one constituency during the general elections. Each political party is allotted the share of seats in the parliament in proportion to its share of votes.

Let’s assume that the number of seats in the Israeli Parliament is 100 and 4 political parties are contesting in the general elections, and the entire country is treated as a single constituency. So, after elections-

  • Party A gets 27% of the total votes
  • Party B gets 33%
  • Party C gets 35%
  • Party D gets 5%

So, Party A will get 27 seats, Party B will get 33 seats, Party C gets 35 seats and Party D gets 5 seats in the Parliament. So, the seats are allocated to the parties in proportion to the votes polled by them.

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.

Numerous multi-member constituencies

In countries like Portugal and Argentina, the entire country, instead of being treated as a single constituency, is divided into several multi-member constituencies.

Each political party prepares a list of candidates for each constituency, depending on the number of members to be elected from that constituency. Hence, a constituency elects several representatives who may belong to different political parties.

Hence, in the Proportional Representation system, voters exercise their preference for a particular political party, rather than a particular candidate as the voters are not given a choice of candidates. In the Proportional Representation system, there’s no single representative who represents and is responsible for one locality. Moreover, the system of Proportional Representation could lead to intense political instability in the country following this system, as you can see in the example, no single political party could get the majority. And the numbers displayed in the example are more or less the reality! As seen in Israel which experienced 4 national elections in two years, and finally different political parties which differ from each other ideologically formed the government. Moreover, Israel would also see two Prime Ministers in the next five years.

Elections to Rajya Sabha
Image by- Elections.nz

It’s quite clear why India chose First Past the Post system of elections instead of the Proportional Representation System. However, our constitution provided for a complex variant of the Proportional Representation System called the Single Transferrable Vote System (STV) for the elections to Rajya Sabha.

Elections to Rajya Sabha: Proportional Representation (PR) and the Single Transferrable Vote System (STV)

Rajya Sabha or the Council of States consists of 245 seats. 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.

Elections to Rajya Sabha
Image by- The Financial Express

Each state is allotted a quota of seats in the Rajya Sabha. The members of each state are elected by the respective State Legislative Assembly. 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 the 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 has to 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 elected. And even after counting all the first preference votes, the required number of candidates fail to fulfill the quota of seats allotted, the candidate who secured the lowest number of first-preference votes would be eliminated, and his/her first preference 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.

Image by- FACTLY

Well, you can see how complex this system of election is, just assume what would’ve had happened if this system was mentioned in the constitution for the conduct of general elections!

First Elections to the Rajya Sabha

The members of the Rajya Sabha are elected for a tenure of 6 years and one-third of the members retire every 2 years. This is quite confusing, isn’t it? As if every member gets a tenure of 6 years, and one-third retire every 2 years, and election of all the 204 members (when the Rajya Sabha was first constituted, its strength was 216) was held in the same year, 1952. So, how this symmetry was established?

Image by- Wikipedia

The first elections in India were held from October 1951 to February 1952, which were held for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas. After that, the Rajya Sabha elections were held in 1952. The constitution stated that one-third of the members of the Rajya Sabha would retire every two years. So, there could be one solution, one-third of the members could be elected in 1952, one-third in 1954, and the rest in 1956. However, this wasn’t the most viable solution to this dilemma as two-thirds of the seats would’ve been vacant for 2 years, and one-third of the seats would’ve been vacant for 4 years, surely not good for the newly established democratic republic.

So, in order to maintain the symmetry, all the seats in the Rajya Sabha were filled in the same year (1952), but every member wasn’t elected for the full term of 6 years. One-third of the members retired after two years, one-third after four years, and the rest were elected for six years.

  • First Chairman- Dr. S Radhakrishnan (also the first Vice President of India)
  • Deputy Chairman- S V Krishnamoorthy Rao
  • Leader of the House- N Gopalaswami Ayyangar
System of elections followed in countries around the world:

First Past the Post System:

  • India
  • United Kingdom
  • America (Partly)
  • Canada

Proportional Representation System

  • Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Argentina
  • Israel
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