Sep 24, 2023
Sep 24, 2023
by H.N. Bali
That Was a Poll That Was - Part II
Continued from “ End of a Dishonest Decade”
“Those who have knowledge don’t predict. Those who predict don’t have knowledge.” These wise words of Lao Tzu, the 6th Century BC Chinese poet explain what made me to hazard a guess that awkwardly proved right. And in the bargain, I emerged to be an amateur psephologist. But that’s the beginning of my troubles. Now, I’m called upon to explain why and how did the party that won minority of popular vote, is the winner. This, actually, has been happening all through the last six decades. No body minded it because the winner was Congress. This time, however, the benefit goes to BJP, and hence, the demand for an explanation.
Winner with 31 % Vote Share
An interesting – actually, intriguing - fine print in the 2014 election statistics reveals that the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party was the first to have ever reached the halfway mark of seats in Parliament with only 31 percent of the votes. Modi, thus, has led his party to the biggest victory with the smallest vote share of a single-party government. (The previous lowest vote share for a party that achieved a simple, single-party majority in the Lok Sabaha was for the Congress in 1967, when the party won 283 out of 520 LS seats, with a vote share of 40.8 percent.)
In an election of many an extreme – for example, the highest voter turnout ever and the most expensive election so far that has been widely described as one of the most polarized - this low-to-middling percentage of the vote share won by the BJP brings to the forefront several new aspects of how India really voted.
Added to the Congress’s dismal and lowest ever vote share of 19.3 percent, the BJP and Congress have together won only about 51 percent of the votes polled. So, nearly half of the record-breaking turnout of voters opted for neither national party i.e., BJP or Congress. And therein lies the much-debated rub. It means 49 percent of the vote was thoroughly splintered, giving the BJP its highest ever tally and a simple majority entirely on its own without the support of its election allies.
So, after the 1991 PV Narasimha Rao Government - a minority government with outside support in which the Congress had won just 38.2 percent of the vote share – Modi’s will be a government with the “lowest popular support in terms of vote share”, unless of course the BJP leader reaches out and invites other allies to participate in the government, which he is very likely to do.
Even with its NDA partners, the new government’s vote share will be around 38.5 percent and the UPA share, 23 percent - and all the rest another 38 percent, i.e., almost the size of the ruling NDA’s share itself.
According to the Election Commission of India website, the BSP won 4.1 percent, the Trinamool Congress won 3.8 percent, Samajwadi Party (though it has only five MPs) won 3.4 percent and the AIADMK won 3.3 percent. This establishes how fractured is the voting pattern of the 2014 poll, even if there is, fortunately, a clear mandate.
A little-noticed fact of the election results is that it’s for the very first time that a ruling party with a simple majority does not have a single Muslim MP in the Lok Sabha. Of its 482 candidates who contested the general elections, only seven were Muslim, and none of them won, including Shahnawaz Hussain, a long-time sitting MP who lost from Bhagalpur. Even in Jammu and Kashmir, where the BJP has made a startling debut with three MPs, the Muslim candidates did not win. Doesn’t that indicate that the Muslim community has yet to enter the mainstream of political activity?
Our intellectual class has shown profound dismay with the present electoral system which hasn’t this time worked to their advantage. It was deemed to be excellent till it worked in their favor. Hence, the spotlight on its inherent defects.
The current system is based on the-first-past-the-winning-post takes all. This is popularly called the FPWP and has been adopted or adapted like most of our institutions from their existing British counterparts.
Every electoral system has its pluses and minuses. Take two alternatives.
The German democratic system originally framed in 1949 by the war-time Allies overseeing the country’s transition to a Western-style democracy, provides for two houses of parliament.
The German parliament’s lower chamber called Bundestag has at least 598 members. Under Germany’s mixed proportional and direct electoral system, 299 members are directly elected in their districts and the other 299 members enter parliament via party lists through proportional representation.
Under Germany’s proportional representation system a party that wins at least 5 percent of the vote gets seats in the Bundestag - even if it fails to win any directly contested seats. This aspect of the German political system was put in place to give representation to smaller parties and has been crucial for the pro-business Free Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party, all of which emerged as heirs to the East German communists.
Unlike our FPWP system, all Germans cast on election day two separate votes. The first vote is for a representative for their constituency. Whoever receives the most votes in each constituency wins a seat in the Bundestag. Half of the Bundestag’s roughly 598 members are elected in this way.
The second vote is for a political party. This vote decides the level of representation each party will have in the Bundestag. To give a simplified example, let’s say the Green Party wins 15 percent of the second vote. It’s thus entitled to 15 percent of seats in the Bundestag, or about 90 MPs. In reality, this calculation is slightly more complex.
If the Green Party already won, say, 40 constituencies in the first vote, then the party would be entitled to send an additional 50 MPs to the Bundestag. These MPs are chosen based on lists of candidates drawn up at the state level. The other half of the Bundestag members is elected from these party lists.
Sometimes, a party may win more seats at the constituency level than it is entitled to based on the proportion of the second vote they received. In this case, the party will keep these extra seats. As a result of these so-called “overhang mandates”, the Bundestag often has more than 598 members.
As you’ll see from the above simplified outline the German parliamentary system is indeed fairly complex. The logic behind what political scientists call a “mixed member proportional system” such as Germany’s, is to fulfill two goals: first, to ensure that Germans throughout the country have someone representing the interests of their local district (hence the first vote); while simultaneously, ensuring that each party is represented in the Bundestag in proportion to its overall support nationwide: hence, the second vote.
The voters, however, don’t get to elect members of Germany’s upper house of parliament, called the Bundesrat. The upper house consists of delegations sent by the governments of Germany’s 16 constituent states.
Perhaps, the most original feature of the French Fifth Republic is the use of a two-round electoral system for both presidential and legislative elections. The system is not exactly the same in the two cases. For presidential elections only the top two candidates are allowed to run on the second ballot while in legislative elections one needs the support of at least 12.5 per cent of registered electors in the first ballot in order to be eligible for the second. But the basic rule in both elections is that it takes an absolute majority to be elected on the first ballot and that a second ballot takes place if that condition is not satisfied.
In fact, France is the only established democracy with two rounds for the election of the lower house.
The French voting system is a single-member majoritarian system in two rounds. A candidate is elected in the first round if he/she obtains an absolute majority of the total votes cast, provided this amount is equal to a quarter of registered voters in a given constituency.
Protest vote and abstention are somewhat taken into account: to be elected in the first ballot, a candidate must receive the absolute majority of the votes cast and a number of votes equal to a quarter of the number of registered voters.
The second ballot takes place on the Sunday following the first ballot.
To be a candidate at the second round, one must have been a candidate in the first round and obtained a number of votes equal to 12.5% of the registered voters.
At the second ballot, a relative majority of cast votes is enough to get elected.
There are two stages to elect the French President. First is more like a primary where all candidates compete and then the top two candidates stay in the race while others get out. The next stage is set to choose one of the two remaining in the race to be president.
However, if a candidate got more than 50% of votes in the first stage, he will become president directly. The French being French, that however has never happened nor is it likely to be.
Advantages of FPWP
Back to our own First Past the Winning Post system. Like other plurality/majority electoral systems, it is defended primarily on the grounds of its simplicity and its tendency to produce winners who are representatives beholden to defined geographic areas and governability.
Among the most often cited advantages are that it provides a clear-cut choice for voters between two main parties. This inbuilt advantage in many cases leads the party system to gravitate towards a party of the ‘left’ and a party of the ‘right’, alternating in power. Third parties often wither away and almost never reach a level of popular support above which their national vote yields a comparable percentage of seats in the legislature.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it gives rise to single-party governments. The ‘seat bonuses’ for the largest party common under FPWP (e.g. where one party wins 45 per cent of the national vote but 55 per cent of the seats) mean that coalition governments are the exception rather than the rule. This state of affairs is praised for providing cabinets which are not shackled by the restraints of having to bargain with a minority coalition partner.
Disadvantages of FPWP
However, FPWP is frequently criticized for a number of reasons. These include:
First, it excludes smaller parties from ‘fair’ representation, in the sense that a party which wins approximately, say, 10 per cent of the votes should win approximately 10 per cent of the legislative seats. That doesn’t happen. For instance, in 1993, in federal election in Canada, for example, the Progressive Conservatives won 16 per cent of the votes but only 0.7 per cent of the seats. This pattern tends to be repeated time and again under FPWP. This is exactly what has happened in our own elections.
Secondly, it excludes minorities from fair representation. As a rule, under FPWP, parties put up the most broadly acceptable candidate in a particular district so as to avoid alienating the majority of electors.
Ironies of the System
In fact whichever system we adopt we have to live with its imperfections. Remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope:
“For forms of Government let fools contest.
Whate’er is best administered is best.”
Maurice Duverger, the 97-year old French sociologist and political scientist, now settled in Bordeaux — famous for its red wine and its life-enhancing properties - is generally regarded as an international authority on study of political parties. While at Princeton, he authored in 1951 his monumental study, The Political Parties. In it, he analyzed in detail the evolution of political systems in the Western democracies and the institutions that operate in diverse countries, showing a preference for empirical methods of investigation rather than philosophical reasoning.
He devised a theory which became known as Duverger’s law, which identifies a correlation between a first-past-the-post election system and the formation of a two-party system. While analyzing the political system of France, he coined the term semi-presidential system.
All that is for specialists. Let’s learn to live with the following ground realities:
The highly convoluted logic that since only 31% people voted for the BJP, 69% people rejected them.
Though in 2004 the Congress got a pathetic 26.5% vote share and still ruled India for a full term. That’s a whopping 12% below the current NDA in 2014. Carrying this logic forward since the greatest mandate in the India was 1984 and Rajiv Gandhi polled just 49%, 51% of the people of India rejected him!
Only 10 crore people voted for the Congress. But the population of India is 121 crores. So haven't 111 crore people rejected the Congress? 92% of India has rejected Congress you may conclude.
BJP won by merely 31 % popular vote. That translated into 171 million voters. And that’s an all-time global record. Never in the history of world democracies have 17 crore people voted for one single party.
On the whole, Muslims rejected Modi. Is there any Prime Minister of India who has been rejected by the Sikhs? The Christians? The Dalits? The Jats? Putting it the other way: Has there been any government in India that has been accepted by each and every caste group and each and every religious group?
Isn’t that why democracy was created in the first place so that Hindus don’t decide who rules India nor Muslims, but the people irrespective of their religion.
Come to think of it, Tamil Nadu has rejected the Congress for 47 years. West Bengal has rejected the Congress for 37 years.
The richest candidate in India’s history and the only dollar billionaire in the form of Nandan Nilekani lost by 2,28,575 votes.
Modi-baiters fear that Modi’ll convert India into a Fascist state: a common theme avidly picked up by the foreign press. Jawaharlal Nehru curbed free speech via the First Amendment. Rajiv Gandhi tried to muzzle the press with the Anti-Defamation Bill. Section 66A was introduced under the Sonia Gandhi Raj. However, the villain of peace, as always, is BJP.
All so-called intellectuals, liberals and secularists of India wear magical glasses which filter out Congress misdeeds and magnify BJP’s.
More by : H.N. Bali
|Well said, Sir. I have dwelt upon this percentage business in detail in response to Shri Puri's article "Debunking Modi Wave". If Congress and Modi had fought one to one without any regional parties in the fray, Modi would have won hands down. We all know it; even the Congressmen do. But, yet there are some who want to think otherwise!|
|Fine ground realities projected here ... wish people would read it at least once before criticizing the BJP non-stop.|