What is meant by the First Past the Post system? Explain one advantage and one drawback of this system.
Some countries including India use the first-past-the-post system to elect their governments or the members of the parliament. A country or its states are divided into constituencies according to their population figures. Each constituency is represented by a candidate from every political party. Amongst them, the candidate who receives the majority votes is declared the winner in the constituency and his party represents that constituency in the lower house of the Union or state legislature.
Advantages 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 disadvantages 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 promotes a link between constituents and their representatives, as it produces a legislature 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 developing 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.