Understanding General Elections 2009

With the elections nearing each day, there is only one concern which is at the top of the mind for most of us? Who do I vote? More importantly, should I vote?


One question which pre-dominates my mind is that do we really understand our existing system, or is it just a part of civics textbooks we’ve long forgotten to brush up.


Electoral systems refer to the detailed constitutional arrangements and voting systems which convert the vote cast by citizens/ members into a determination of which individuals and/ or political parties are elected to positions of power or governance. The process can be understood as follows. The first step is to tally the votes, for which various different vote counting systems and ballot types are used. Voting systems then determine the result on the basis of the tally.


Broadly, most systems are categorized as either proportional or majoritarian. Proportional consists of party-list proportional representation and additional member system, while Majoritarian consists of the First Past the Post (FPP) (relative majority) and absolute majority.


When discussing party systems, there are three popular systems, by which a democratic nation selects its leaders:


a) One Party Elections


b) Elections between two parties


c) <>Contesting between more than two parties.


Each of them have their own set of pros and cons. The application of each system is even more interesting. None of them is a fixed defined block, but various combinations can be found in them suiting different nations altogether.


In one party elections the contesting takes place within the organization, with little role to play by the masses. The best example for which would be People’s Republic of China. There is only party governing the entire country. The election takes place by indirect voting.


Election between two parties, is where only two parties are allowed to contest against each other for the position of authority. This not only restricts the choices available to the citizens when voting, but also does not encourage too much of unwarranted competition between contesting members. The drawback could be that there is no third best alternative. Example. The USA has a two party democratic system, with a common congress. The Chair holder is either a democrat or a republic, none other than the two.


Last but not the least the third type is where there are multiple parties contesting for the elections. In India, more specifically, we follow the first-past-the-post (FPTP), wherein, the candidate that obtains more votes than any other is elected, even if that person only won a minority of votes cast. In some other countries like France, even when multiple parties contest for the elections, the top two contestants are selected and the process of voting is done amongst the two. There can be multiple round or single round even for this system. Thus, the one who comes to power has to hold Absolute Majority unlike the Coalition Government experience.


In conclusion, it is unfair to judge any of the system, without taking into light a large number of factors which directly or indirectly affect the nation at large. It needs a much deeper understanding and study, before one can praise or condemn the system for what it is.


At this point in time, it is important to understand that while openness and accountability are usually considered cornerstones of a democratic system, the act of casting a vote and the content of a voter’s ballot are usually an important exception. The secret ballot is a relatively modern development, but it is now considered crucial in most free and fair elections, as it limits the effectiveness of intimidation. Let’s ensure that this privilege is used to the best and participate in Elections 2009. After all we take pride in saying, “Government of the people, for the people and by the people.”


Souvik Mitra



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