Thanks, PD, for your understanding (tweet). Let me cut & paste quickly a few things I have written earlier on this topic. More systematic response will have to wait. Indeed, FTI needs to review this issue and form a position, anyway, since the topic keeps coming up every few months/years.
Note that initially I was agnostic between FTPT or PR, the main reason in my mind to favour of FPTP in India being that it was an existing system, easy to implement, and that the real issue was never the question between FPTP/PR, but the underlying incentives. I still largely hold that position, but there now seem to me to be a few more fundamental reasons to tilt the balance towards FPTP.
almost all concepts found in a democracy, such as simple majority, two-third majority, first-past-the-post, proportional representation, preferential voting, direct representation, indirect representation and so on, are entirely arbitrary. Some of this arbitrariness arises from economizing. Societies build institutions which minimize the costs of electing governments and the subsequent costs of arriving at decisions. If unanimity among all citizens were to be sought in every decision, then no action could ever be taken and the society would come to a grinding halt. Societies also have to consider the need for continuity in government policy. We may be fickle with our favourite film stars, but government policy needs to be far more stable – else it will confuse everyone and prevent citizens from making long-term decisions. Rapid change is best avoided in government-related settings.
Even the most advanced countries continue to wrestle with their democratic processes and no nation has got this element of their society perfectly sorted out. Indeed, there can never be such a thing as perfection in democratic governance; only constant shifts as improvements are attempted. There is constant churn in the institutions of democracy. [p.86]
Before I review Indian democratic institutions in the next three chapters and suggest what we could do to improve things, I would like to briefly touch upon the question of presidential, proportional, or other representation models for India – a question that for some unfathomable reason exercises our minds more than questions of how incentives operate within our existing governance system. We periodically seem to go on a wild-goose chase looking for other models that appear, on the surface, to function better than ours. But the mere form of democratic representation, whether Westminster or presidential, whether proportional or first-past-the-post, doesn’t really matter in the end, given the complexities and competing objectives that democracies need to serve. While models are important, the quality of governance in a society ultimately depends on the design of the incentives deep inside the entrails of these models.
Two democratic frameworks that look exactly the same on the surface will operate radically differently and lead to opposite outcomes based on the incentives generated by their supporting structures. A comparison of the performance of the Indian system with the Australian proves this point easily. While these two models are quite similar on the surface, the Australian model performs unimaginably better because its incentives and mechanisms are different at the detailed level. Improving the incentives in our current Indian model of democracy will similarly yield dramatic improvements in our outcomes. [p.89]
Draft policy for FTI that I had started working on in its initial year (before its website was entirely rebuit). This policy has not yet been further discussed on FTI nor finalised:
- Data show that countries with PR and FPTP perform similarly. It is the underlying incentives in the democratic system which lead to good people contesting elections – which then leads to good results. One should spend one’s energy in fixing the existing FPTP system in India whose flaws are totally obvious, than create a totally new platform of PR first and then start fixing the same flaws which almost certainly will still remain. Minimum change for maximum impact should be our goal.
- People' won't get an MP who represents their area but will get someone chosen by the party based on overall representation. The MP will in no way accountable to the voter. In Indian most MPs will then come from urban/ metro areas, leaving out LOCAL representation for rural areas. In FPTP at least people know whom they have elected, and not have some distant city resident whom they never saw suddenly become their ‘representative’.
- Even if proportional were better (which it is not) it would not solve India key problems. The key problem is lack of good candidates. PR doesn't address that (in fact, may increase the power of coteries like the Gandhi clan, also known as Congress).
- Finally, liberal efforts in India have been hampered by lack of leadership and coordination, not because of FPTP.
What are the effects of electoral rules? (how economists analyse the UK electoral system from the viewpoint of the role of elections in democratic systems), by Klingelhofer J, Economic Review (UK), Nov 2011, Volume: 29 Issue: 2 pp.28-30
Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems, Pippa Norris, International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique , Vol. 18, No. 3, Contrasting Political Institutions. Institutions politiques contrastées (Jul., 1997), pp. 297-312
If you found this post useful, then consider subscribing to my blog by email: