The chapter introduces students to the interesting aspect of democracy: elections. This chapter talks about the types of elections and the methods of elections performed at various levels of democracy. The chapter also creates a distinction between the FPTP and the proportional representation system of elections. We also highlight various political bodies like the election commission, delimitation commission and in-depth discussion on the electoral reforms.
India is a constitutional democracy with a parliamentary system of government, and at the heart of the system is a commitment to hold regular, free and fair elections.
These elections determine the composition of the government, the membership of the two houses of parliament, the state and union territory legislative assemblies, and the Presidency and vice-presidency.
Elections in India are events involving political mobilisation and organisational complexity on an amazing scale.
What is “First Past the Post”?
The ‘First-Past –The-Post’ is an electoral system that is also known as a simple majority system. In this system, the candidate with the highest number of votes is the winner. This system is followed in India for the direct election to the ‘Lok Sabha’ and ‘State Legislative Assemblies.
FPTP is a system in which, the entire country is divided into 543 constituencies:
Each constituency elects one representative
The candidate who secures the highest number of votes in that constituency is declared elected.
It is important to note that in this system whoever has more votes than all other candidates is declared elected.
The winning candidate need not secure a majority of the votes. This method is called the First Past the Post (FPTP) system.
This method is also called the Plurality System.
What is Proportional Representation?
Each party fills its quota of seats by picking many of its nominees from a preference list that has been declared before the elections.
In this system, a party gets the same proportion of seats as its proportion of votes
What type of election system is followed in India?
In India, we have adopted a PR system on a limited scale for indirect elections. The Constitution prescribes a third and complex variation of the PR system for the election of President, Vice President, and for the election to the Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishads.
Comparison of FPTP and PR System of Election
FPTP - First Past The Post
The country is divided into small geographical units called constituencies or districts. Every Constituency elects one representative.
Voter votes for a candidate
A party may get more seats than votes in the legislature.
A candidate who wins the election may not get the majority E.g-U.K and India
Proportional Representation (PR)
Large geographical areas are demarcated as constituencies. The entire country may be a single constituency. More than one representative may be elected from one constituency
In this system, a voter votes for the party every party gets seats in the legislature in proportion to the percentage of votes that it gets
A candidate who wins the elections gets the majority of the votes. Examples: Israel, Netherlands
What are the advantages of the FPTP system?
The popularity and success of the FPTP system are because of its simplicity.
The entire election system is extremely simple to understand even for common voters who may have no specialized knowledge about politics and elections.
A clear choice is presented to the voters at the time of elections. The voters have to simply endorse a candidate or a party while voting.
Depending on the nature of actual politics, voters may either give greater importance to the party or to the candidate or balance the two.
The FPTP system offers voters a choice not simply between parties but specific candidates.
In a constituency-based system like the FPTP, the voters know who their own representative is and can hold him or her accountable.
Why is it believed that ‘FPTP’ would be a good choice instead of ‘PR system’ for a stable government?
PR-based elections may not be suitable for establishing a stable government in a parliamentary system.
In order for this system to work, the executive must have a majority in the legislature. Because seats in the legislature are distributed based on vote share, a clear majority is unlikely.
In a diverse country like India, a PR system would encourage each community to form its own national party.
In general, FPTP allocates more bonus seats to the largest party or coalition than their vote share would allow. This system allows a parliamentary government to function smoothly and effectively by facilitating the formation of a stable government. In order to win a local election, the FTPT system encourages voters from various social groups to band together.
The FPTP system has proven to be simple and familiar to ordinary voters.
Candidates must be members of the community or social group for which the seat is reserved, but all voters in a constituency are allowed to vote.
According to the Constitution, seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
This provision was originally set for a 10-year period, but it has been extended until 2020 due to subsequent constitutional amendments. Parliament can decide to extend the reservation period after it expires.
Who decides which constituency is to be reserved? On what basis is this decision taken?
The Delimitation Commission, an independent body, makes the decision on the reservation of constituencies. The President of India appoints the Delimitation Commission, which collaborates with the Election Commission of India.
The number of seats to be reserved in each state is determined by the proportion of SC or ST residents in that state. The Delimitation Commission examines the population composition of each constituency after drawing the boundaries.
ST seats are reserved for constituencies with the highest proportion of Scheduled Tribes.
The Delimitation Commission considers two factors when it comes to Scheduled Castes.
It selects constituencies with a higher proportion of people from the Scheduled Castes. However, it disperses these constituencies throughout the state.
This is because the Scheduled Caste population is fairly evenly distributed across the country.
How many times has the ‘Delimitation Commission’ changed the boundaries of the nation-state?
Delimitation Commission has been set up four times - 1952, 1963, 1973 & 2002 under the Acts of 1950, 1962, 1972, 2002.
42nd Amendment, 1976: Seats will remain unchanged till the year 2000.
84th Amendment, 2001: Seats were frozen till 2026.
Universal Franchise & Right to Contest
Who can vote & who has the right to contest elections?
Universal Adult Franchise gives the right to vote to all adult citizens, regardless of wealth, income, gender, social status, race, ethnicity, or any other restriction, subject only to relatively minor exceptions.
Earlier, the voting age or an adult was to be considered above the age of 21. In 1989 this was reduced by the constitution to the age of 18 years through 61st Amendment, 1989.
This was known as ‘Universal Adult Franchise’ which states that all citizens are able to participate in the process of selecting their representative.
This is consistent with the principle of equality and non-discrimination.
Right to Contest Election
All citizens have the right to stand for election and become the representative of the people.
There are different minimum age requirements for contesting elections. For example, in order to stand for Lok Sabha or Assembly election, a candidate must be at least 25 years old.
There is a legal provision that a person who has undergone imprisonment for two or more years for some offence is disqualified from contesting elections.
There are no restrictions of Income, Education, Class or gender on the Right to Contest Elections.
Election Commission Of India
What is the Election Commission of India?
The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India.
The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies in India, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country.
Therefore, articles 324 to 329 deal with the power, function, tenure, eligibility of the commission and the members.
The Chief Electoral Officer is appointed in every state to assist the task of the Election Commission of India. Hence, the election commission is not responsible for the elections of the local bodies.
The Election Commission of India can either be a single member or a multi-member body. It was a single-member body till 1989 but two election commissioners were appointed just before the 1989 elections.
In 1993, two election commissioners were appointed making it a multi-member body and has remained till then.
A multi-member Election Commission is more appropriate as power is shared and there is greater accountability.
The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) presides over the Election Commission but does not have more powers than the other Election Commissioners. The CEC and the two Election Commissioners have equal powers to take all decisions relating to elections as a collective body.
They are appointed by the President of India on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
The Constitution ensures the security of the tenure of the CEC and Election Commissioners. They are appointed for a six-year term or continue till the age of 65, whichever is earlier.
The CEC can be removed before the expiry of the term, by the President if both Houses of Parliament make such a recommendation with a special majority. This is done to ensure that a ruling party cannot remove a CEC that refuses to favour it in elections.
What are the functions of the Election Commission of India?
The Election Commission of India has a wide range of functions:
It supervises the regular update of the voter’s list.
It ensures that the voter’s list is free of errors like the non-existence of names of registered voters or the existence of names of those non-eligible or non-existent.
It also determines the timing of elections and prepares the election schedule.
The election schedule includes the election notification, the start date for filing nominations, the deadline for filing nominations, the last date for filing nominations, the last date for scrutiny, the last date for withdrawal, the polling date, and the date for counting and declaring results.
The Election Commission is solely responsible for elections and has the authority to make decisions that will ensure that elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.
On the grounds that the atmosphere is tainted, the commission has the authority to postpone or cancel the election for the entire country, a specific State, or a specific constituency. It also establishes a model code of conduct for political parties and candidates to follow.
When it believes the counting process has not been fully fair and just, it can order a re-poll in a specific constituency or a recount of votes.
The Election Commission accords recognition to political parties and allots symbols to each of them.
Elections are an important part of Indian politics, as India is one of the world's largest democracies.
India has a democratic government, with electoral reforms playing a critical role in ensuring free and fair elections. Reforms should be implemented on a regular basis.
Experts recommend that our electoral system be changed from the FPTP to a PR variant. This is thought to ensure that parties receive seats proportionate to their vote totals.
A special provision should be made to ensure that at least one-third of the legislature and assemblies are made up of women.
Money's role in electoral politics should be more strictly regulated. Election expenses should be paid out of a separate fund by the government.
Candidates who have been charged with a crime, even if their appeal is pending in court, should be barred from running for office. Caste and religious appeals should be prohibited from being used in the campaign.
A law should be passed to regulate political party operations and ensure that they are transparent and democratic.