“The best electoral system is the one that straightforwardly and most accurately reflects the preferences of voters,” the legal scholar Donald Horowitz noted in his 2003 seminal essay on electoral systems. But there is no definite answer as to which system fits that bill. India and the United Kingdom follow the Westminster electoral model, in which the voters elect their representatives respectively to the Lok Sabha and its counterpart, the House of Commons. The voting procedure as well as the election of candidates is based on the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system—electors vote for one candidate in one constituency among all those contesting the elections from that constituency. The candidate with the highest number of votes, irrespective of the margin of victory or percentage of votes polled, is declared the winner.
In recent years, both countries have questioned the merits of the FPTP procedure. In 2011, the UK conducted a referendum on whether to retain the voting system—68 percent voted in its favour. (However, the voter turnout for the referendum was only 41 percent, which means a majority did not participate in the decision-making process.) In India, too, the FPTP system is under scrutiny this year. On 22 April, the parliamentary standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice—headed by Anand Sharma, a Congress member of parliament in the Rajya Sabha—issued a press release announcing an examination of the issue of electoral reforms and alternative voting systems. In late August, the Indian Express reported that the committee had sent a questionnaire on electoral reforms to all parties and the Election Commission. According to the news report, the questionnaire stated that “apprehensions are now being raised that in recent years the FPTP system is not the best suited” to India.
The FPTP has several advantages due to which it is considered to be the simplest electoral system. The first advantage is clarity—it is an easy system to understand, the choices for the voters are clear, and the counting is also simple and straightforward. As soon as the votes are counted, the winner is immediately evident. The system also guarantees one representative for each constituency who is accountable to his electorate, which is not necessarily the case in other voting systems. A third advantage is that candidates get to know their relative support in the constituency, unlike other parties where electors vote for a party, and not for individual candidates.