Replacing FPTP

Karan Thapar discusses former Chief Election Commisioner Lyngdoh’s solution to the problem of “hate speech”. Lyngdoh believes that hate speech is a consequence of the first past the post system which will often lead to candidates getting elected even with 20-30% of the vote. So, all a candidate has to do is to appeal to a hardline base, which often means that he can profitably utilize hate speech towards that end. The solution, according to Lyngdoh, is in two parts. The first part is to utilize run-off voting where the top two candidates slug it out for a second round. The second part is to use proportional voting to fill part of the legislature.

I have discussed this when I reviewed Arun Shourie’s book for Pragati, but both these solutions will worsen the problem. In the FPTP system, you have to win the first time. Yes, you can win with 20-30% of the vote, but only if no one else gets more. What is stopping you from appealing to a broader section of the population right now? In a run-off voting system, you have an incentive to run a two-stage election strategy. In the first stage, your campaign is extremist, focusing on your base. In the second stage, you move to the centre to take advantage of the median voter – something that happens with American Presidential elections. In the FPTP system, you have little incentive to shoot for the second or third place. But in a run-off system, you have an incentive to try to secure 10-15% of the vote, so that you “transfer” it in the second round in return for favours.

Proportional voting has similar problems. In the FPTP system, there is little incentive to appeal to a religion, caste or section that is only 5% strong, but distributed across multiple constitencies. In a proportional system, a party that is focused on just that 5% will still get 5% of the seats.

To be honest, I actually like the proportional system. If you combine it with a directly elected President (making parliamentary majorities irrelevant) the system has some advantages – for one thing, it will provide better representation to the middle class that is now spread across multiple constituencies. But let’s not look at it to solve problems it won’t solve.

3 thoughts on “Replacing FPTP

  1. The American style moving to Center analogy does not hold. Moving in terms of policy — say, in terms of taxation or talking to Iran — is different from hate speech. The former is a lot easier and in fact a possible natural progression of ideas. The latter is not (though I quite like hate speeches myself). This Lyndogh plan is a non starter for varied reasons but what will really be interesting is, will anyone in the INC take it up.

    What is easier and to me a better solution, is when the Rajya Sabha gets a Veto (or, equal voting rights in all legislative aspects except voting the government out).

  2. Agree reg. inability of run off elections to suppress “hate speech”, I think such a system may be marginally more representative of urban middle class.

    Reg. Presidential system I think it is preferable to present Westminster model. However I will like to modify the national legislature so as to discourage its fragmentation. I think National legislature is not the right forum to discuss regional matters, instead more power should devolve to states (and all the way down to Municipal corporations and Panchayats) in accordance with principle of subsidiarity.

  3. Nilu, let’s take the Varun Gandhi case. Typically, the Hindutva style rhetoric appeals to a small section of Hindus. But contrary to what the secularists claim, the larger section of Hindus are not actually put off by it. It’s just that they are not moved by it, or they may have other reasons to not vote BJP, or they may be voting on caste lines, or whatever. So, in the first stage, Varun consolidates his base through hate speech, and in the second stage he strikes alliances with local caste leaders, etc. Perfectly workable strategy.

    Likewise, for Muslim hate speech. Does it put off the Hindus? Well it does. In a constituency that has 10% Muslim vote, a Muslim candidate spewing hate speech will never get elected. But in a first stage election, he can win 10% of the vote, and then declare his support for a Congress candidate – as we have seen with alliance-building at the national or state levels, it is trivially easy for the Congress candidate to escape the stigma.

    Gaurav, mostly agree, but if we have a Presidential form, then fragmentation of the National Legislature does not matter and may even be slightly beneficial. Yes, if we devolve powers and responsibilities, then fragmentation at national level may reduce.

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