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The merits and otherwise of FPP and MMP

The recently held State elections in India and the Parliamentary elections in Canada indicate the ‘perils of rule by majority.’

In Canada, the incumbent Conservative Party won with a convincing majority, while in the Indian States of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, votes swung in favour of a single Party, respectively the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Trinamul Congress.

These results indicate that the simple ‘First Past Post System’ (FPP) inherited from the Westminster legacy is now under scrutiny.

Interestingly, there was immense support (68%) for FPP in a referendum held in Britain following the 2010 general elections, compared to the Alternative Voting System (AVS). The Conservatives were understandably happy that Britons favoured status quo.

The argument in favour of FPP, claimed to be the second most widely used system in the world, is that it is simple, easy to understand, cheap to administer, does not take long for vote counting and produces a clear winner.

On the other hand, the AVS has a series of negatives, prompting former British Prime Minister the late Sir Winston Churchill to say, “It allows democracy to be determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates.”

New Zealanders will have an opportunity to express their opinion on the existing Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) or prefer FPP in a referendum that will be held along with the general election on November 26, 2011.

The problem with electoral reforms is that election results can relegate them without a proper understanding of the context and the need, based on the geography, history, ethnicity and the Constitution of the country.

‘Elected Dictatorship’

Besides, the main problem with FPP without a powerful Senate is that it gives enormous power to the Executive. In the New Zealand context, it would be even more prominent as laid out by Victoria University’s Institute of Policy Studies Fellow Harshan Kumarasingham in his book Onward with the Executive Power- Lessons from New Zealand (1947-1957).

He says that FPP would lead to an ‘Elected Dictatorship.’‘

It is true that the post-World War II democratic regimes, including the US and UK wanted to retain maximum power with the Executive. This knowledge was passed on to other democratic countries such as New Zealand, Canada and India with their changes in the Constitution and electoral reforms, which indirectly favoured maximum representation.

The recent scandals of corruption in India could be attributed to the flawed system, which gives maximum power to the Executive, overlooking the Legislature.

Take for example the recently held State elections in Tamil Nadu, in which the AIADMK obtained 39% of the votes, with nearly a five-sixth majority with its allies in the 234-member assembly. It is interesting to note that nearly 70% of the electorate had voted against the Party.

Such a phenomenon occurred earlier both in Tamil Nadu and Canada with the decimated opposition following the language of silence, breeding ‘Elected Dictatorship.’

FPP also removes active inter-party democracy as manifested in India. With no List Members of Parliament, this does not augur well for multicultural societies.

Every electoral system comes with its positives and negatives.

In New Zealand for instance, the practice of FPP between 1914 and 1996 gave rise to two major parties (National and Labour) dominating the political spectrum. With MMP coming into the picture, fringe parties have become significant, often holding the balance of power.

The country’s electorate, now comprising a mix of European, Maori, Pacific Islander, Indian, Asian and other ethnicities, must voice their choice decisively in the ensuing referendum.

Balaji Chandramohan, a journalism graduate from the Waikato University, is our Correspondent based in New Delhi, India.

Photo Courtesy: Elections New Zealand

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