Parliamentary Panel Asks If It Is Time to Move on From ‘First-Past-The-Post’ Electoral System

In a questionnaire sent to all political parties and the Election Commission, the panel has cited the UP elections to argue that first past the post may not be the “best suited system”.

A polling officer applies ink on the finger of a voter at a polling station on the outskirts of Jammu April 10, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta

A polling officer applies ink on the finger of a voter at a polling station on the outskirts of Jammu April 10, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta

New Delhi: An all-party parliamentary panel is reportedly looking into alternatives to the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system currently in use for Lok Sabha and assembly elections in India.

According to the Indian Express, the panel, headed by Congress leader Anand Sharma, has expressed “apprehensions” that the FPTP may not be the“best suited system”, citing the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections as an example to highlight their point. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has sent a six-page questionnaire to all political parties as well as the Election Commission (EC), asking for their views on the matter.

In the FPTP system, the candidate to receive the most number of votes in any constituency wins and all other votes are disregarded.

“There are different systems of elections — like first-past-the-post (FPTP), list system (open list and closed system), proportional representation, ranked or preferential voting, and mixed systems. In our country we follow FPTP for Parliament and Legislative Assemblies’ elections and proportional representation for the election of President…What is your view in the matter and please also suggest the alternative system, if any,” Indian Express quotes from the questionnaire. “Apprehensions are now being raised that in recent years the FPTP system is not the best suited system as is evident from the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, where results have indicated that a party getting 39 per cent vote share won 312 seats and parties getting 22 per cent and 21 per cent got only 47 and 19 seats respectively,” the questionnaire goes on to say.

While talking about the UP elections, the committee does not specify by name which parties it is referring to. Opposition parties have often talked about how it is the FPTP system that ensured a complete majority for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections – even though they received only 31% of the votes.

The panel has also asked the EC whether it would be feasible to introduce a different electoral system in India and what challenges may get in the way. The EC has also been asked to compare the FPTP system as followed in India and the UK, as well as how various major democracies use the system (if they still do) and the challenges they may be facing.

Within the same questionnaire, the panel has asked questions under five heads, including ‘Electoral Funding’, ‘Systems of Elections’, ‘Media/Free Airtime’, ‘Internal Democracy in Political Parties’ and ‘Miscellaneous’. Under the media section, the panel has talked about the increasing number of media houses and asked whether these need to be “regulated/controlled”. “In many cases, political parties and candidates are directly or indirectly controlling stakes in media houses, leading to witch-hunting and character assassination of political parties and candidates. There is also emergence of cartels and oligarchies in media ownerships and leaning towards parties in power to further business,” the panel says, according to the Indian Express, while seeking views on “airtime allocation to political parties and candidates in privately owned electronic and print media during elections”.

The questionnaire also asks for views on “cross ownership of media houses by corporates and their influence in the conduct of elections” and the “ideal way to limit their influence”; and on how to “check or regulate the money power used through media” to swing election results.

According to the Indian Express, certain opposition parties like the Congress, BSP, CPI(M), NCP, CPI and Lok Janshakti Party have responded to the questionnaire. However, the BJP and several other parties are yet to send in their replies.

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