[Editorial] The first-past-the-post system (FPTP) – Meaning and Shortcomings

Quick revision mind map

Context

Votes are enshrined in caste and religion in almost every election

  • In almost every election, from national, state, to local governments, or even at the office level, one has to play the game of dirty craftsmanship to get a sizeable vote share in elections.
  • Due to the nature of India’s democracy, votes are enshrined in caste and religion.

The first-past-the-post system (FPTP)

  • The current system of election in place is called the first-past-the-post system (FPTP).
  • The candidate with diversity or plurality of votes gets elected.
  • The candidate does not need to have a majority.
  • They just need to have more votes than all the others contesting the same seat.

The need for an alternative method

Game of winning instead of representing and backdoor dealings

  • The existing method comes across as an untrustworthy method wholesomely relying on political machinations, under the table dealings, and a game of winning instead of representing.
  • As a result, political parties put up candidates who do not alienate the majority of voters.
  • Since Dalits, Adivasis and women candidates have only a long shot at winning, parties are discouraged to field candidates from minority groups outside the reserved seats.
  • Under such intense representation protocols, the vote share must be co-opted for the one candidate to win.
  • Thus, backdoor dealings are done without the poor voter having any idea about the fate of their vote.
  • Such is the nature of this politics that even notable leaders have faced defeat due to communal division of votes under the FPTP system.
  • Even the tallest leader of his times, Dr Ambedkar, couldn’t see the doors of the Lok Sabha.
  • We need to reconsider our election model. Because, going by FPTP, vote share does not amount to representation in seats.

Not a viable option in India

  • FPTP can work well in smaller countries with manageable election logistics.
  • In India, it is not a viable option.
  • The purpose of FPTP was geared towards having a two-party system, with minority, small parties not being bothersome coalition partners.
  • But Indian elections since 1952 have undergone massive social changes.
  • This has contributed to each caste polity reclaiming its share, giving rise to coalition governments, thus going against the maxim of FPTP.
  • Ideally, people should vote for their candidates. But this happens in rare circumstances.
  • Local leaders piggyback on national leaders in their election campaigns.

FPTP and the anti-defection law

  • Ideally, as seen in the UK and Canada, where FPTP operates, the MP is accountable to their constituency.
  • In India, where even a small parliamentary constituency has a population of 1.5 to 2.5 million, it is a fiefdom of India’s feudal politics.
  • The MPs can also defect from their party in the interest of their constituents in the aforementioned countries.
  • In India, anti-defection law makes it harder for the candidate to stand by his or her constituents and instead they follow the diktats of their leadership.

Smaller parties

  • Smaller parties need to exist as rightful partners in India’s electoral politics.
  • However, due to the current system, they are forced to either get co-opted or aligned with the interests of national parties, defeating the purpose of federalism and local self-government.

Way Forward

  • A method combining FPTP and proportional representation needs to be charted out for the health of India’s republicanism.

Practice Question for Mains

  1. A method combining FPTP and proportional representation needs to be charted out for the health of India’s republicanism. Discuss. (150 Words, 10 Marks)
Referred Sources

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