Additional Member System as an Alternative to Women's Reservation

By Joseph, T. M. | Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences, January-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Additional Member System as an Alternative to Women's Reservation


Joseph, T. M., Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences


Electoral systems do have an impact on the quality of representative democracy. Different electoral laws produce different results and different types of representatives also. The electoral system also does have an impact on the nature and extent of voting behaviour. In this context, the present paper looks into the question whether the 'first-past-the-post' (FPTP) system in India is truly representative and examines whether alternative models are available which can make our democracy more representative and meaningful.

We may begin by distinguishing electoral laws from other kinds of law. If we agree that 'laws' generally are authoritative rules of conduct enacted and enforced by the holders of governmental authority, then 'election laws' are those authoritative rules which pertain to the conduct of laws. "Electoral laws are those which govern the processes by which electoral preferences are articulated as votes and by which these votes are translated into distributions of governmental authority (typically parliamentary seats) among the competing political parties" (Rae 1967:14). A number of concomitant questions are then asked with regard to the electoral laws. Are the voters asked to choose between men or parties? Does the candidate or party with more votes than any other win outright or is the victory divided among the contestants in proportion to their vote? Does the voter express a nominal preference or is he asked to rank his preferences among a number of alternatives? Does each constituency choose a single legislator, or does it select a number of them?

The answers to these questions are interdependent; an answer to any one limits the answers the law may reasonably give to the others. For example, single-member constituency system and elaborate rules for proportionality, at least at the constituency level, are incompatible. It is this interdependence which leads political scientists and politicians alike to regard the total pattern of electoral laws prevailing for a particular country's general elections as an organic whole- an "electoral system" (Rae 1967: 14-15). Different countries do have different electoral systems.

Now it is pertinent to examine the question what kind of electoral system exists in India. The essential characteristics of the Indian electoral system are summarized below.

1. First-past-the-post system of election

This system enables a candidate to win an election when he gets more votes than his strongest single competitor, but has not necessarily polled a higher total than the combined opposition. It is this property which accounts for terms like "relative majority", and "plurality formula". The plurality formula makes an election a contest in which the winner is to outscore the best of the opposition. This, of course, introduces an element of "chance", since the number of votes required to win cannot be predicted from the formula and the total vote alone. Sometimes, a candidate may win with 35 votes, while two opponents get 25 and 30 votes respectively. The term 'first-past-the-post' originated from the analogy of a horse race. For a horse which is first to pass the winning post it is, indeed, a matter of indifference whether it has left one or many horses behind. Thus, it is a strange experience for us to consider that the winner with his 35 votes is a smart fellow: he has left two opponents behind him, the one at a distance of 5, the other at a distance of 10 votes. The rationale is that the object of racing is just to decide which horse or automobile has travelled the distance most rapidly.

Another difficulty with the FPTP is that the votes a candidate gets beyond the minimum requirement are, in a sense, wasted. It makes no difference that a candidate wins by a landslide in a constituency; a hair's breadth margin would do as well. In the same logic, the votes given to losing candidates are also wasted.

2. Ballot structure is categorical rather than ordinal

In democratic elections, voting is essentially an act of choice. …

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