Initiating what could be the first structured discussion on the issue, an all-party Parliamentary panel is exploring “different systems of elections”, other than the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system that is currently followed in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
Citing “apprehensions” that the FPTP may not be the “best suited system”, as “evident” from the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, headed by Congress leader Anand Sharma, has sent a six-page “Questionnaire on Electoral Reforms” to all parties and the Election Commission.
“There are different systems of elections — like first-past-the-post (FPTP), list system (open list and closed system), proportional representation, ranked or preferential voting, and mixed systems. In our country we follow FPTP for Parliament and Legislative Assemblies’ elections and proportional representation for the election of President…What is your view in the matter and please also suggest the alternative system, if any,” says the questionnaire.
“Apprehensions are now being raised that in recent years the FPTP system is not the best suited system as is evident from the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, where results have indicated that a party getting 39 per cent vote share won 312 seats and parties getting 22 per cent and 21 per cent got only 47 and 19 seats respectively,” it adds. While it does not name the BJP, SP and BSP, the reference to their respective vote shares and the seats won in the state elections is obvious.
In the past, the Congress and other Opposition leaders have, on several occasions, reminded the BJP that it won the 2014 Lok Sabha polls because of the FPTP system, as the party polled only about 31 per cent of the vote share.
Asking the EC about the “feasibility of introducing proportional, list system or a mix of systems for elections”, the panel has asked it to furnish the “challenges, if any” in this regard. It has also asked the EC to give a comparative analysis of the FPTP system followed in India and the United Kingdom, along with similarities, differences and emerging challenges in the continuation of FPTP in major democracies.
The views of parties and the EC have been sought under five heads: ‘Electoral Funding’, ‘Systems of Elections’, ‘Media/ Free Airtime’, ‘Internal Democracy in Political Parties’, and ‘Miscellaneous’.
In the section related to media, the panel has cited the “mushrooming of private media houses” and asked whether these should be “regulated/ controlled” like Doordarshan and All India Radio. “In many cases, political parties and candidates are directly or indirectly controlling stakes in media houses, leading to witch-hunting and character assassination of political parties and candidates. There is also emergence of cartels and oligarchies in media ownerships and leaning towards parties in power to further business,” it says, seeking views on the specific issue of “airtime allocation to political parties and candidates in privately owned electronic and print media during elections”.
It has also sought views on “cross ownership of media houses by corporates and their influence in the conduct of elections” and the “ideal way to limit their influence”; and on how to “check or regulate the money power used through media” to swing election results.
On the issue of electoral funding, the panel has sought views on the electoral bonds proposed in the Finance Bill, 2017 and on the proposal regarding state funding of elections.
Taking up the issue of internal democracy in political parties, it has sought views on ensuring “internal democracy and transparency in the nomination of candidates for elections”, and on simplifying the “extremely tedious and complicated” process while filing the nomination papers.
The panel has also asked for comments on the “legality and justification” of provisions regarding disclosure of assets of a candidate’s spouse and children; on the Supreme Court’s observation that a candidate should be disqualified from contesting from the date of framing of the charges (it has said this provision could be misused by the party in power); and on the “relevance and feasibility” of holding simultaneous elections for legislative assemblies and local bodies (Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed for a wider discussion on this issue).
While some Opposition parties like the Congress, BSP, CPI(M), NCP, CPI and Lok Janshakti Party have responded, many others, including the BJP, are yet to send their replies.