Rooting for the List System, First-past-the-post system outdated

Lok Sabha seats matching the percentage of votes polled by political parties is a more fair reflection of people’s will. This coupled with the ‘List’ system is the way forward

Rooting for the List System, First-past-the-post system outdated

Uttam Sengupta

This week’s election to the European Parliament was based on a list system. Each member of the European Parliament, all independent countries, conducted an election in which different parties participated.

Each country was allotted a number of MPs and each party could send the same percentage of MPs as polled by them. However, the minimum threshold was five per cent. Parties securing less than five per cent of the votes polled were not able to send any MP to the Parliament.

Each party had to submit a list of probables before the election. And if it polled 10% of the votes, one tenth members from its list from the top were deemed elected to the Parliament.

Had there been a List system in India, Uttar Pradesh would still have sent 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha but the distribution of MPs would have been different. The Bharatiya Janata Party securing 50% of the votes polled would have sent 40 MPs from the state to the Lower House. And the Congress, securing just 6% of the votes would have sent just one.

There are reasons to believe that the first-past-the-post system that we adopted from Britain has not served us well. And it is time to look at a different system. Not only has the system allowed political parties with much less than 50% of the votes to form the government, but it has repeatedly allowed a disproportionate number of seats to parties securing a few additional percentage of votes. The proportional system in-built in the List system tends to correct the skew.

In the Lok Sabha election of 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party emerged as the single largest party by polling 38% of the votes. As many as 303 BJP candidates got elected. But in the List system too, it would have sent the highest number of MPs to Parliament. But the number would have been 38% of the total strength of the Lower House, say around 210.

The halfway mark in the House being 272, this number would have fallen short. But if we make a further improvisation and ensure a ‘national government’ with representation from all parties in Parliament, this obstacle can be surmounted. By extending the proportional system to the Union ministry, the largest party would have cornered the post of the Prime Minister, the important portfolios and 38% of the Cabinet posts etc. But it would also have ensured the representation of regional parties and even smaller parties in the ministry.

What if the List system is extended to the states? The state governments would then comprise all regional parties with a significant presence in the states. No party would be completely wiped out as in the first-past-the-post system of winner takes all. The Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal(U) in Bihar and the DMK and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu could then contest the election on issues, programmes and their list of candidates. But once the election got over, they could then concentrate on working together in the government. Needless to add, this would introduce better checks and balances and would also possibly put an end to the spectacle of ‘Aya Rams and Gaya Rams’ or defection of elected members from one party to another.

The Election Commission of India, let us admit, has failed to curb the use of money and muscle power in elections. But the List system would have the additional advantage of reducing the cost of contesting elections. The ‘Dance of Democracy’ would not then be reduced to a ‘Waltz of the Wealthy’ and the Lok Sabha to a House of millionaires. Parties would contest elections on principles and programmes, not on divisive and emotional agenda. Individual candidates would still campaign but for their parties and their programmes, not for themselves or their caste or religion.

Nation building is a work in progress. But we have frittered our energy and lost a lot of time in fighting political battles that has generated a lot of heat, dust and bad blood. The Electronic Voting Machines have not put doubts and suspicions at rest. It is time we looked for a different model to hold this country together and to channelise our energy to more constructive activity than in demonising the ‘other’.

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