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Sunday, August 7, 2016

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the First-past-the-post voting system?

First past the post or FPTP, also known as Simple Majority Voting, Winner-takes-all voting or Plurality voting is the most basic form of voting system. In its simplest form, under FPTP, voting takes place in single-member constituencies. Voters put a cross in a box next to their favoured candidate, and the candidate who gathers the most votes in the constituency or other electoral area wins the election. All other votes count for nothing. FPTP is clear, simple and decisive in the majority of cases, but many would argue that it is anything but a representative voting system. FPTP can also be used in multi-member electoral areas where voters are asked to vote for as many candidates as there are vacancies. Examples include local council elections, elections of foundation trust governors and membership organisations.

In public elections, FPTP is the second most widely used voting system in the world, after Party-List PR. It is principally used in the electoral systems that are either are, or were once, British Colonies. FPTP is currently used to elect members of the House of Commons in the UK, both chambers of the US Congress and the lower houses in both Canada and India. The use of FPTP voting systems used to be more widespread, but many countries have now adopted other alternative voting systems.

The advantages and benefits of a FPTP voting system

It’s simple to understand.
It doesn’t cost much to administer.
It’s is fairly quick to count the votes and work out who has won; meaning results can be declared relatively quickly after the polls close.
In a political environment, FPTP enables voters to clearly express a view on which party they think should form the next government.
FPTP is ideally suited to a two-party system and generally produces single-party governments, although the 2010 UK General Election was an obvious exception
Single-party governments by and large don’t have to rely on support from other parties to pass legislation, though as the UK has found that is not always necessarily the case as the current Coalition Government demonstrates.
Some would argue that FPTP voting systems encourage broad-church centrist policies and discourage extremist points of view
The disadvantages and shortcomings of FPTP voting systems

Representatives can get elected with small amounts of public support, as the size of the winning margin is irrelevant: what matters is only that they get more votes than other candidates.
FPTP encourages tactical voting, as voters often vote not for the candidate they most prefer, but against the candidate they most dislike.
FPTP is regarded as wasteful, as votes cast in a constituency for losing candidates, or for the winning candidate above the level they need to win that seat, count for nothing.
FPTP can severely restrict voter choice. Parties are not homogenous and do not speak with one unified voice. Parties are more coalitions of many different viewpoints. If the preferred-party candidate in a constituency has views with which a voter doesn’t agree, he or she doesn’t have a means of expressing that at the ballot box.
Rather than allocating seats in line with actual support, FPTP rewards parties with what is often termed ‘lumpy’ support; that is, with just enough votes to win in each particular area. With smaller parties, this works in favour of those with centralised support.
With relatively small constituency sizes, the way boundaries are drawn can have important effects on the election result.
Having small constituencies often leads to a proliferation of safe seats, where the same party is all but guaranteed re-election at each election. This not only effectively disenfranchises a region’s voters, but it leads to these areas being ignored when it comes to framing policy.
If large areas of the country are effectively electoral deserts for any particular party, not only is the area ignored by that party, but also ambitious politicians from the area will have to move away from their locality if they aspire to have influence within their party.
Because FPTP restricts a constituency’s choice of candidates, the representation of minorities and women suffers, as the ‘safest’ looking candidate is the one most likely to be offered the chance to stand for election
Although encouraging two-party politics can be advantageous, in a multi-party culture, third parties with significant support can often be greatly disadvantaged.
For an independent assessment of your organisation’s electoral needs and impartial advice and guidance about the electoral system that best fits your requirements speak to UK-Engage.

Genesis of Terror & Road to Peace


Interrogating democracy

BREXIT has triggered two arguments about democracy: (1) Voters are ignorant, and (2) representatives are selfish. In either case the implications for governance are grave. It is significant that the questions are being asked in the West. They have always been on the table in countries like Pakistan but dismissed as reflecting the limitations of people rather than of democracy.
The answers in Pakistan are clear. The wisdom of voters is extolled in theory but undermined by contempt for their intelligence in practice. Citizens are never asked how the revenue they contribute ought to be allocated — they cannot be trusted to determine what is good for them or the nation. As for the representatives, voters are convinced of their dishonesty, their task limited to selecting the least crooked. The rulers themselves leave no doubt accusing each other of egregious malfeasance.
In the West the questions are more nuanced and therefore of greater intellectual interest. What is the limit to the knowledge of voters? They are considered independent and capable enough to choose local representatives based on their preferences but can they disentangle the pros and cons of multilayered questions of economic policy? Should they be expected to do so? If they are, does that leave them vulnerable to being misled by those with vested interests?
Vested interests are at the heart of the second question. Have financial considerations now so dominated social ones that rulers prioritise the interests of capital over those of people? And have the interests of ruling elites become so enmeshed with the protection of capital that they have reneged on their promise to advance the welfare of citizens?

The rules of governance must be re-examined.

After all the ink that has been spent on Brexit, the conclusions appear quite sobering: many voters acted seemingly against their economic interests to kick back at rulers whom they considered uncaring; both factions of the rulers lied, one just more effectively than the other. Incredibly, the winners admitted immediately after the surprise outcome that they had done so.
These conclusions are a sad commentary on the present state of democracy and a troubling sign of its future trajectory. As problems faced by nation-states become more complex in a globalised economy the stresses of the market will transfer to politics. Strains will increase and the side that lies more effectively will continue to gain ground till there is a break.
Some of the consequences are already obvious. Both in England and US, the plight of the population hurt by the workings of global capital is being blamed on migrants leading to a politics of fear, resentment, and racism. The rise of Trump leaves little doubt in this regard.
What then is to be done? The key is to realise that the system of democratic governance comprises rules some of which should be re-examined, fine-tuned, or changed, if necessary. To take an obvious example: is the system based on plebiscitary or representative democracy? If the latter, as is the case in Britain, was a yes-no referendum on staying in the EU not an act of irresponsibility taken only for self-interested political reasons? How can such reckless gambles be forestalled?
Consider a less obvious but equally consequential rule. Two Nobel laureates, Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen, have argued that Trump would not have emerged as the Republican presidential candidate if the primaries had followed a rule other than the first-past-the-post (FPTP), winner-take-all one. And David Runciman, a leading British academic, has claimed that “the primary cause of the referendum result is the first-past-the-post system, albeit through its secondary effects”. Refer­ring to the fact that the UK and US are among the few de­­ve­­­loped countries to follow the FPTP, he goes on to say that “it also isn’t a coincidence that the two places where truly destabilising populist politics have been let off the leash are Britain and the United States.”
This is a salutary reminder that electoral rules matter to the extent that they can break countries apart. The fact that South Asia has inherited the FPTP from Britain without any serious exploration of its appropriateness or implications does not bode well.
It is not that we have been immune to rule changes — recall those that barred more than two turns as prime minister or required a graduate degree to be elected to parliament. Both were accepted as part of politics without serious intellectual attention to the importance of rules to good governance. Unless we pay attention to these details we will continue to suffer from the vagaries of democracy till popular pressure builds up for the only binary alternative we can imagine — never mind that the cure has always been worse than the disease. Thinking on constitutional arrangements has to advance to avoid a fate that thrives on ignorance.
The writer manages The South Asian Idea, a learning resource for college students.
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