Making a case for run-off elections

The NDA’s combined vote share was 38.5% and the UPA’s was just under 23%

The National Democratic Alliance government is getting increasingly beleaguered. It is not just a question of Narendra Modi’s questionable style of government, but also a question of how truly representative our governments have been. Consider this: Bharatiya Janata Party’s 31 per cent is the lowest vote share of any party to win a majority! The fact that the BJP has won a majority on its own in the 16th Lok Sabha does, inevitably, draw comparisons with previous elections in which parties have won a majority of seats on their own.

What has not quite figured in most of these comparisons is the fact that no party has ever before won more than half the seats with a vote share of just 31 per cent. Indeed, the previous lowest vote share for a single-party majority was in 1967, when the Congress won 283 out of 520 seats with 40.8 per cent of the total valid votes polled.

This statistical fact points to an important aspect of the latest “wave”. Far from spelling the end of a fractured polity, the 2014 results show just how fragmented the vote is. It is precisely because the vote is so fragmented that the BJP was able to win 282 seats with just 31 per cent of the votes.

Simply put, less than four out of every 10 votes opted for NDA candidates and not even one in three chose somebody from the BJP to represent them. Those who picked the Congress or its allies were even fewer — less than one in five for the Congress with a 19.3 per cent vote share (which incidentally is higher than the BJP’s 18.5 per cent in 2009) and less than one in every four for the UPA.

Unfortunately for the Congress, its 19.3 per cent votes only translated into 44 seats while the BJP’s 18.5 per cent had fetched it 116 seats. With the combined vote share of the BJP and Congress — the two major national parties — adding up to just over 50 per cent, almost half of all those who voted in these elections voted for some other party. Even if we add up the vote tallies of the allies of these two parties, it still leaves a very large chunk out.

The NDA’s combined vote share was 38.5 per cent and the UPA’s was just under 23 per cent. That leaves out nearly 39 per cent — or a chunk roughly equal to the NDA’s — for all others. Is the 38.5 per cent vote share for the NDA the lowest any ruling coalition has ever obtained? Not quite. The parties that constituted UPA-1 had just 35.9 per cent of votes polled and the Congress won just 38.2 per cent of the votes in 1991, when it ran a minority government under P.V. Narasimha Rao. But, except in 1991, they had to depend on outside support to keep the government afloat, which meant that the total vote share of those in the government or supporting it was higher.

In 1989, the National Front, consisting of the Janata Dal, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telugu Desam and Congress (Secular) won 146 seats and a vote share of 23.8 per cent. To this was added the 85 seats and 11.4 per cent vote share of the BJP and the 52 seats and 10.2 per cent of the Left, taking the total, including those supporting from outside, to 283 seats and 45.3 per cent of the votes.

In 2004, parties in the pre-poll alliance stitched up by the Congress had 220 seats and just under 36 per cent of the votes. But the UPA then got outside support from the Left, Samajwadi Party and Peoples Democratic Party, which between them shared 100 seats and about 11.2 per cent vote share. Thus, UPA-1 was formed with the support of 320 MPs and about 47 per cent of votes polled.

The NDA did not need any outside support to form the government. Indeed, the BJP could have formed it even on its own. But it is the government with the lowest popular support in terms of vote share after the Narasimha Rao government. That isolation shows up ever more often these days. Parliament being unable to function is just one manifestation.

Clearly, the BJP does not enjoy the support of a majority of the people, as have the governments before. That then, could be why we have such adversarial politics and cobbled up arrangements to oust the leading party. Thus, we have a political system with no reference to policies. Look at the turnabouts of both the BJP and Congress on Goods and Services Tax Bill and the Land Acquisi-tion Bill. Clearly, a government with an electoral minority and a political majority has many inherent problems. Most of these manifest themselves soon after the first flush of victory disappears.

Isn’t it time to consider a run-off system to ensure we have a Parliament or a legislature that truly represents a majority? The run-off system or two-round system is a voting system that ensures that an elected representative has the support of more than half the voters. In countries that have this system, after the first round, in which many candidates can contest, a second round between the two leading vote-pullers is held to ensure the election of a person with an absolute majority. If a person is elected with more than half the votes polled in the first round itself, there is no need for a run-off.

The run-off elections usually take place within days, if not weeks, of the first round, to enable political constituencies to be merged or accommodated, and ensure the elected representative coalesces many more political consti-tuencies. This weeds out single-issue candidates and forces politicians to become more accommodative in their beliefs and views. Many countries have such a system. France, Indonesia, Poland, Portugal are some of the countries with a run-off system in place.

The writer, a policy analyst studying economic and security issues, held senior positions in government and industry.
He also specialises in the Chinese economy

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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