ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Case for Proportional Representation?

A vote share of less than 30% and a clear majority in Uttar Pradesh. Is it time for a change?

Even as the Samajwadi Party (SP) celebrates its spectacular return to power in Uttar Pradesh (uP) by winning 224 out of 403 seats in the state assembly, it must be said that in the multiparty contest that is now a feature of India’s largest state the first past the post (FPTP) system has helped the party record a tally hugely disproportionate to its vote share. The SP won a majority of seats though it received only 29.2% of the votes, and this was not much more than the 26% share of the incumbent Bahujan Samaj Party (bsP). The SP stormed to victory with a vote gain of only 3.2 percentage points over 2007, while the BSP which recorded a decline in vote share by 4 percentage points saw its seat tally plunge by as many as 126 seats. To be fair to the SP, there was a similar pattern in the 2007 assembly elections when the BSP benefited from the FPTP system and the SP was the loser. The last time, the BSP collected only about 30% of the vote and yet managed a tally of 206 seats.

UP boasts a multiparty system in which each of a large number of parties regularly receives a substantial percentage of the votes. (In UP, the number of such “effective” parties – as measured by the Laakso-Taagepera index – is very high (5.2 in the recent elections).) A unique feature is that almost every constituency regularly witnesses a contest between four large parties – the SP, BSP, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress Party (the last two are of course of lower strength than the fi rst two). This has meant that in the recent elections in no seat has the winning candidate obtained a majority of the votes. The FPTP system therefore favours the political party that is able to record the largest swing in vote share relative to its core base.

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