Election and Representation- NCERT Notes UPSC

Election and Representation

In a Democracy, people participate in the electoral process and directly choose their representatives. Our Constitution lays down some rules to ensure free and fair elections. Election and Representation form an integral part of Indian Polity and should be studied extensively during the UPSC exam preparation.

Elections and Democracy

Direct Democracy

  • It is one where the citizens directly participate in the day-to-day decision-making and in the running of the government such as the ancient city-states in Greece.

Indirect Democracy

  • Necessity of representation in a large democracy: All citizens cannot take direct part in making every decision. Rule by the people usually means rule by people’s representatives.
  •  In such an arrangement, citizens choose their representatives who are actively involved in governing and administering the country. 
  • The method followed to choose these representatives is referred to as an election. 
  • Role of citizens:
    • Not actively involved: They have a limited role in taking major decisions and in running the administration.
    • Citizens are involved indirectly through their elected representatives.  

Role of Constitution

  • It lays down some basic rules about elections for ensuring free and fair elections
  • These basic rules are usually about eligibility to vote, to contest, supervision of elections etc.

Also, read: Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution- NCERT Notes UPSC

Election System in India

In a democratic election, people vote, and their preference decides who will win the contest. Some rules can favour the majority community while others can protect the minorities. 

First Past the Post System

  • The entire country is divided into 543 constituencies.
  • Each constituency elects one representative.
  • The candidate who secures the highest number of votes in that constituency is declared elected. 
  • No need of majority of votes: In this system whoever has more votes than all other candidates, is declared elected. This method is called the First Past the Post (FPTP) system. 
  • This method is also called the Plurality System. 
  • This is the method of election prescribed by the Constitution. 

Proportional Representation (PR)

Comparing with Israel’s system of Elections: 

In Israel, once the votes are counted, each party is allotted the share of seats in the parliament in proportion to its share of votes.

Each party fills its quota of seats by picking many of its nominees from a preference list that has been declared before the elections. This system of elections is called the Proportional Representation (PR) system. 

In this system, a party gets the same proportion of seats as its proportion of votes

There are two Variations in the PR system

  • In some countries like Israel or Netherlands, the entire country is treated as one constituency and seats are allocated to each party according to its share of votes in the national election. 
  • In some countries like Argentina and Portugal, the country is divided into several multi-member constituencies. Each party prepares a list of candidates for each constituency, depending on how many have to be elected from that constituency. 

In both cases, voters exercise their preference for a party and not a candidate. The seats in a constituency are distributed based on votes polled by a party. Thus, representatives from a constituency, would and do belong to different parties. 

In India:

  • India has adopted PR system on a limited scale for indirect elections. 
  • The Constitution prescribes a third and complex variation of the PR system for the election of President, Vice President, and for the election to the Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishads.

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PR System in Rajya Sabha Elections

  • It follows a third variant of PR- the Single Transferable Vote system (STV).
  • Every State has a specific quota of seats in the Rajya Sabha. 
  • The members are elected by the respective State legislative assemblies
  • The voters are the MLAs in that State. 
  • Every voter is required to rank candidates according to her or his preference
  • To be declared the winner, a candidate must secure a minimum quota of votes, which is determined by a formula:
Election
  • Votes are counted based on first preference votes secured by each candidate i.e., of which the candidate has secured the first preference votes. 
  • If after the counting of all first preference votes, required number of candidates fail to fulfil the quota, the candidate who secured the lowest votes of first preference is eliminated and his/her votes are transferred to those who are mentioned as second preference on those ballot papers. This process continues till the required number of candidates are declared elected.

Table showing Comparison of FPTP and PR system of Elections

Election

Reasons for Adopting the FPTP System by India

  • Simple system: It is extremely simple to understand even for common voters who may have no specialized knowledge about politics and elections. 
  • Clear choice for voters: 
    • Voters have to simply endorse a candidate or a party while voting. 
    • It offers voters a choice not simply between parties but specific candidates. 
  • Issues with PR:
    • It is a complicated system which may work in a small country.
    • No accountability for own locality: Voters are often asked to choose a party and the representatives are elected on the basis of party lists and they don’t know their own representative.
    • Low stability: The Constitution makers felt that PR based election may not be suitable for giving a stable government in a parliamentary system. 
  • Smooth functioning of government: The FPTP system generally gives the largest party or coalition some extra bonus seats which is more than their share of votes would allow. It allows the formation of a stable government. 
  • Working together: The FPTP system encourages voters from different social groups to come together to win an election in a locality. In a diverse country like India, a PR system would encourage each community to form its own nation-wide party. 

Experience of the FPTP System

FPTP system has confirmed the expectation of the constitution-makers. 

  • It has proved to be simple and familiar to ordinary voters. 
  • It has helped larger parties to win clear majorities at the centre and the State level. 
  • It has also discouraged political parties that get all their votes only from one caste or community. 
  • Normally, the working of the FPTP system results in a two-party system
  • The experience of FPTP in India is slightly different
    • After independence: There emerged a one-party dominance.
    • After 1989, India is witnessing the functioning of the multiparty coalitions. 
    • In many States, a two-party competition is emerging, but the distinguishing feature of India’s party system is that the rise of coalitions has made it possible for new and smaller parties to enter into electoral competition.

Reservation of Constituencies

Need

  • In FPTP election system, the candidate who secures the highest votes in a particular constituency is declared elected. This often works to the disadvantage of the smaller social groups.
  • India had a history of caste-based discrimination. In the FPTP electoral system, this means that the dominant social groups and castes can win everywhere, and the oppressed social groups may continue to remain unrepresented. 

Separate Electorates:

It was introduced by the British government.

It means that for electing a representative from a particular community, only those voters would be eligible who belong to that community.

Reserved Constituencies

  • In this system, all voters in a constituency are eligible to vote but the candidates must belong to only a particular community or social section for which the seat is reserved. 
  • To ensure proper representation: There are certain social groups which may be spread across the country and their numbers may not be sufficient to be able to influence a victory of a candidate in a constituency. 
  • Constitutional provisions: 
    • It provides for reservation of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. 
    • This provision was made initially for a period of 10 years and as a result of successive constitutional amendments, has been extended up to 2030
    • The Parliament can take a decision to further extend it when the period of reservation expires. 
    • The number of seats reserved for both groups is in proportion to their share in the population of India. 
    • Of the 543 elected seats in the Lok Sabha, 84 are reserved for SC and 47 are reserved for ST (as on 26 January 2019).

Here are some useful links for UPSC CSE preparation:

Criticism of Basic Structure DoctrineReorganization of the StatesFunctions of the Speaker of Lok Sabha
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The Process to Determine Reserved Constituencies

  • These constituencies are decided by an independent body called the Delimitation Commission which is appointed by the President of India and works in collaboration with the Election Commission of India. 
  • Purpose: Drawing up the boundaries of constituencies all over the country. 
  • A quota of constituencies to be reserved in each State is fixed depending on the proportion of SC or ST in that State. 
  • After drawing the boundaries, the Delimitation Commission looks at the composition of population in each constituency
  • In case of ST: Constituencies with highest proportion of ST population are reserved for ST. 
  • In case of SC: The Delimitation Commission looks at two things: 
    • It picks constituencies that have higher proportion of Scheduled Caste population
    • It also spreads these constituencies in different regions of the State because the Scheduled Caste population is generally spread evenly throughout the country.
  • These reserved constituencies can be rotated each time the Delimitation exercise is undertaken.
  • The Constitution does not make similar reservation for other disadvantaged groups. 

Free and Fair Elections

The true test of any election system is its ability:

  • To ensure a free and fair electoral process
  • To ensure impartial and transparent Election system
  • To allow the voter’s aspirations to find legitimate expression through the electoral results.

Universal Franchise and Right to Contest

  • Universal adult franchise: All adult citizens of the country must be eligible to vote in the elections. Indian Constitution guarantees every adult citizen in India to have the right to vote. 
  • Voting age: 
    • Till 1989, an adult Indian meant an Indian citizen above the age of 21. 
    • An amendment to the Constitution in 1989, reduced the eligibility age to 18
  • Right to Contest Election:
    • All citizens have the right to stand for election.
    • Different minimum age requirements for contesting elections: For example – a candidate must be at least 25 years old for standing in Lok Sabha or Assembly election.
    • Some legal restrictions: A person who has undergone imprisonment for two or more years for some offence is disqualified from contesting elections.
    • It has no restrictions of income, education or class or gender.

Independent Election Commission

It has been made to supervise and conduct’ elections and ensure a free and fair election system.

  • Constitutional Provisions: 
    • Article 324 provides for an independent Election Commission for the ‘superintendence, direction and control of the electoral roll and the conduct of elections’ in India. 
    • It gives the Election Commission a decisive role in virtually everything to do with elections. 
  • To assist the Election Commission of India, there is a Chief Electoral Officer in every state. 
  • The Election Commission is not responsible for the conduct of local body elections. The State Election Commissioners work independently of the Election Commission of India and each has its own sphere of operation.

Structure of Election Commission of India

  • It can either be a single member or a multi-member body
  • Till 1989, the Election Commission was single member. 
  • Multi-member: Just before the 1989 general elections, two Election Commissioners were appointed. After the elections, it was reverted to its single member status. 
  • In 1993, two Election Commissioners were appointed once again, and the Commission became multi-member and has remained since then. 
  • There is general consensus that a multi-member Election Commission is more appropriate as power is shared and there is greater accountability. 

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC)

  • He/she presides over the Election Commission but does not have more powers than the other Election Commissioners. 
  • The CEC and the two Election Commissioners have equal powers to take all decisions relating to elections as a collective body. 
  • They are appointed by the President of India on the advice of the Council of Ministers

Fear: It is possible for a ruling party to appoint a partisan person to the Commission who might favour them in the elections. 

Also, read our recent PrepLadder editorial on “Impact of Recent Assembly Elections on India’s National Security Policy” by eminent author, Happymon Jacob and expand your UPSC horizon and knowledge base.

Security of Tenure

  • The Constitution ensures the security of the tenure of the CEC and Election Commissioners.
  • They are appointed for a six-year term or continue till the age of 65, whichever is earlier. 
  • Process of removal: 
    • The CEC can be removed before the expiry of the term, by the President if both Houses of Parliament make such a recommendation with a special majority
    • The Election Commissioners can be removed by the President of India

Functions of the Election Commission of India

  • Supervises the preparation of up-to-date voters’ list: It makes every effort to ensure that the voters’ list is free of errors like nonexistence of names of registered voters or existence of names of those non-eligible or non-existent. 
  • Determines the timing of elections and prepares the election schedule: The election schedule includes the notification of elections, date from which nominations can be filed, last date for filing nominations, last date of scrutiny, last date of withdrawal, date of polling and date of counting and declaration of results.  
  • During this entire process, the Election Commission has the power to take decisions to ensure a free and fair poll. It can postpone or cancel the election in the entire country or a specific State or constituency on the grounds that the atmosphere is vitiated and therefore, a free and fair election may not be possible.
  • It also implements a model code of conduct for parties and candidates. It can order a re-poll in a specific constituency. It can also order a recount of votes when it feels that the counting process has not been fully fair and just. 
  • It accords recognition to political parties and allots symbols to each of them.

Administrative Machinery of ECI

  • The Election Commission has very limited staff of its own. It conducts the elections with the help of the administrative machinery. 
  • Once the election process has begun
    • It has control over the administration as far as election related work is concerned.
    • During the election process, the administrative officers of the State and central governments are assigned election related duty and, in this respect, the ECI has full control over them. 
    • The EC can transfer the officers or stop their transfers
    • It can act against them for failing to act in a non-partisan manner. 

Electoral Reforms

Suggestions

  • Our system of elections should be changed from the FPTP to some variant of the PR system. This would ensure that parties get seats, as far as possible, in proportion to the votes they get.
  • There should be a special provision to ensure that at least one-third women are elected to the parliament and assemblies. 
  • There should be stricter provisions to control the role of money in electoral politics. The elections expenses should be paid by the government out of a special fund. 
  • Candidates with any criminal case should be barred from contesting elections, even if their appeal is pending before a court. 
  • There should be complete ban on the use of caste and religious appeals in the campaign. 
  • There should be a law to regulate the functioning of political parties and to ensure that they function in a transparent and democratic manner.

Apart from legal reforms, there are two other ways of ensuring that elections reflect the expectations and democratic aspirations of the people:

  • People themselves must be more vigilant and more actively involved in political activities.
  • Various political institutions and voluntary organisations are developed and are active in functioning as watchdog for ensuring free and fair elections.

Interesting Points

  • Two-party system: Power is often shared by two major parties alternately. 
  • Article 324 (1) The superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice-President held under this Constitution shall be vested in a Commission (referred to in this Constitution as the Election Commission).
  • Special majority in Parliament:
    • Two-thirds majority of those present and voting.
    • Simple majority of the total membership of the House.
  • The name of legislature of Israel is Knesset.

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