Discuss three merits and three demerits of the First-Past-the-Post system.
- Merits of FPTP System:
First Past The Post, like other plurality/majority electoral systems, is defended primarily on the grounds of simplicity and its tendency to produce winners who are representatives beholden to defined geographic areas and governability.
The most often cited advantages of the FPTP system are :
It provides a clear-cut choice for voters between two main parties. The inbuilt dis¬advantages faced by third and fragmented minority parties under FPTP in many cases cause 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.
It gives rise to single-party governments. The ‘seat bonuses’ for the largest party common under FPTP (e.g., where one party wins 45 percent of the national vote but 55 percent of the seats) mean that coalition governments are the exception rather than the rule. This state of affairs is praised for providing cabinets that are not shackled by the restraints of having to bargain with a minority coalition partner.
It promotes a link between constituents and their representatives, as it produces a legisla¬ture made up of representatives of geographical areas. Elected
members represent defined areas of cities, towns or regions rather than just party labels. Some analysts have argued that this ‘geographic accountability’ is particularly important in agrarian societies and in deve¬loping countries.
However, FPTP is frequently criticized for a number of reasons :
It excludes smaller parties from ‘fair’ representation, in the sense that if a party which wins approximately, say, 10 percent of the votes should win approximately 10 percent of the legislative seats. In the 1993 federal election in Canada, the Progressive Conservatives won 16 percent of the votes but only 0.7 percent of the seats and in the 1998 general election in Lesotho, the Basotho National Party won 24 percent of the votes but only 1 percent of the seats. This is a pattern that is repeated time and time again under FPTP.
It leaves a large number of wasted votes which do not go towards the election of any candidate. This can be particularly dangerous if combined with regional freedoms, because minority party supporters in the region may begin to feel that they have no realistic hope of ever electing a candidate of their choice. It can also be dangerous where alienation from the political system increases the likelihood that extremists will be able to mobilize anti-system movements.
It can cause vote-splitting. Where two similar parties or candidates compete under FPTP, the vote of their potential supporters is often split between them, thus allowing a less popular party or candidate to win the seat.