Changing contours of UP elections

The  first of the seven-phase elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly will begin from February 11. Political dynamics have been changing dramatically over last few weeks and months. The rift between Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father - Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh - and the subsequent compromise surprised many. The pre-poll alliance of SP and the Congress is seen as being formed in haste.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will be pitted against the coalition power of SP and Congress. One wonders how it may impact the competition on the field. Results of previous elections are an interesting entry point to understand this.

The Indian electoral system is based on the first-past-the-post system. The system allows a candidate to win with the highest vote share. Hypothetically, if the number of candidates fighting the elections is large, one can win with a very low voters support base. Consider a scenario where there are 10 candidates running for a seat, and there are 100 voters.
Suppose one candidate gets 11 votes and rest of the candidates get lower than 11 votes. In this case, even if this candidate has a very low voters’ base, she is still the winner because of the electoral rules of plurality of voting.

The political parties run elections not for a single constituency, but for a host of them. Once the election process takes place, we get the results in the form of seats won by various parties. We also get the total votes received by each party. More often than not, we observe governments which are disproportionately represented. Let’s look at how representative the past UP elections have been.

Take the 2012 elections of UP for example. The SP won 55% of the seats but it had received only 29% of votes. In other words, the SP government of 2012-17 got around 26% more seats than votes in UP. The previous BSP government (2007-2012) was also highly disproportionately represented – it won 51% of seats with just 30% of votes in the state, meaning it was representing 21% of the population of UP without their vote support.

Compare it with 2002 elections, where the largest party - SP – won 35% seats with 25% votes, BSP won 24% seats with 23% votes, and BJP won 21% seats with 20% votes. The representation of these three major parties was relatively better. Their performance was similar in 1996 and 1993 elections. But the historically high disproportionality was evident in the 1977 elections, with the Janata Party achieving 83% seats with just 48% votes. The Congress had 32% vote share while its seat share was just 11%.

Disproportionate representation has been a cause of concern in the national political scenarios as well. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the third largest vote-attaining party at the aggregate level for the country, the BSP, did not win a single seat. This aspect of disproportionate representation largely remains a point of discussion.

Another interesting feature of the recent assemblies in UP is the lower degree of competition among political parties. The competition in the previous two elections has been dull, giving rise to powerful governments of BSP in 2007 and SP in 2012, when compared to the dynamics of the governments in the previous two decades. Political instability was very high in the state during the 1990s.

Stable governments
The chief minister’s office saw many faces in UP during a short period as compared to other states. It is only since 2007 that politics of the state has been stable with chief ministers serving for the entire term of five years. With the advent of the single party governments since 2007 elections, the political competition fell and the disproportionality in representation increased.

The opinion polls of various agencies point toward an unstable assembly in the state. The crisis in the SP which led to the the SP-Congress alliance have changed the landscape of the state political reality. Most of the opinion polls give almost equal seats to the BJP as well as the SP-INC coalition and less than 100 seats to the BSP. With the possibility of power being divided between the three contenders – BJP, BSP and SP-INC coalition – one can expect an unstable situation, going by the pollsters.

One can recall that the BJP and the BSP were together in 1995 when BSP chief Mayawati became the CM for the first time (with the support of BJP). If the elections turn out the way as projected by the opinion polls, BJP and BSP may explore the possibility of forming a coalition government. A post-poll coalition between BSP and SP-INC seems unlikely, given the historic rivalry between the SP and BSP.

Thus, the political competition is expected to rise in current elections. However, one can expect the representation to be better because of the friction provided by the triangular structure of the elections.

(The writer teaches Economics at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana)

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