Presidential Election 2017: Pranab Mukherjee retires in July, this is how India elects its president
As Pranab Mukherjee retires in July, in the first part of a three-part series, Firstpost looks at how India's complex method of electing a president ensures equal representation to states as well as the Union, irrespective of who has majority in which house
Editor's note: After a high pitch battle in five states and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections where BJP scored an amazing victory outwitting the entire opposition, the electoral battle shifts to presidential polls in July. The Opposition, in dire straits, is working on putting up a united candidate. The BJP is still deliberating on names. Still, a consensus candidate cannot be ruled out. In a three-part series, Firstpost will be analysing how the President of India is elected, how various parties are stacked up in terms of seats/votes and whether a united Opposition can defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate. This is part 1 of the series.
In the Parliamentary form of democracy, the president is the head of the state and the supreme commander of its defence forces. He is elected by the representatives elected by the people, which is the MPs and the MLAs. The president is indirectly elected and hence has lesser powers than the prime minister who is elected directly by the people.
Electoral college and a complex formula
The President of India is elected by an electoral college comprising of:
- Elected members of Lok Sabha (543)
- Elected members of Rajya Sabha (233)
- Elected members of State Legislative Assemblies including Delhi and Puducherry (4120)
The calculation of votes for the presidential elections are done using an important formula and steps as follows:
Value of vote of an MLA =
Total Population of the state as per 1971 Census
Total number of elected members of the Legislative Assembly × 1000
|Total Value of votes of all MLAs of a State Assembly||= Value of vote of an MLA × No. of elective seats in the Assembly|
|Total Value of votes of all MLAs across 31 States||= Sum of Total Value of votes of all MLAs of the 31 State Assemblies= 549474|
|Value of vote of MP =||Total Value of votes of all MLAs (549474)
Total number of elected members of Parliament (776)
|Total Value of votes of all MPs||= Value of a vote of an MP × Total No. of MPs
|Total Value of Votes of Electoral College||= Total Value of votes of all MLAs + Total Value of votes of all MPs
=549474 + 549408
What's the voting process like
Nominated members of the Lok Sabha, as well as the Rajya Sabha, are not allowed to vote in the presidential election. Voting is done through a secret ballot and members are not bound by any party whip. The value of the votes of MLAs differs from state to state while the value of the votes of MPs is fixed. An equal weightage is given to votes of MPs and MLAs (50 percent each) in the overall electoral college.
The election is held in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote. Each elector/voter has to mark preferences for the candidates contesting the election, by placing the figures 1, 2, 3 and so on, against the names of the candidates, in the order of his/her preference.
There can be as many preferences as the number of candidates contesting the election. It is compulsory to mark the first preference for the vote to be considered as valid. Marking other preferences is optional. A candidate requires "50 percent of valid votes polled +1" (quota) of the first preference votes cast to win an election.
In case no candidate gets the quota, then the candidate getting the lowest number of first preference votes is excluded. This candidate’s second preference votes are then distributed among the remaining candidates. This process of exclusion and elimination is repeated till a candidate gets the required quota.
In case, even after the exclusion of candidates receiving the lowest number of votes, no candidate secures the requisite quota and ultimately one candidate remains as the lone continuing candidate, he is declared elected.
What's rationale behind adopting this process
The Constitution provides two reasons for adopting the above formulae:
- To ensure uniformity in the scales of representation among the States — Article 55(1)
- To ensure parity between the States as a whole and the Union — Article 55(2).
Hence, the objective of this complex calculation method is to ensure that the President of India is an equal representative of the states as well as the Union of India. This is in line with the spirit of the Constitution of India which is "neither purely federal nor purely unitary in character" and built on the principles of co-operative federalism.
One man one vote vs current formula
One wonders why the architects of our Constitution chose this compounded procedure for the valuation of votes of electors. They could have simply used "one man one vote" principle. After all, the size of a Legislative Assembly is related to the size of the population of the state. This would have also ensured that the underlying principle of proportional representation, which is to prevent exclusion of minorities from the benefits of the state, is adhered to.
The "one man one vote" principle suffers from shortcomings especially with respect to the spirit behind the elections for the head of a state. The number of members in state legislative assemblies is far higher in comparison to the members of Parliament and hence parity between states and the Union cannot be established.
The Constitution provides that there cannot be more than one MLA for every 75,000 of the population. It doesn’t actually lay down that "x" number of people must necessarily be represented by one MLA. It also limits the maximum size of a Legislative Assembly to 500. Both these provisions mean that uniformity between states cannot be established by "one man one vote" method. An MLA represents different sizes of the population in different states, for example, 1.47 lakh in Odisha, 1.49 lakh in undivided Andhra, 2.08 lakhs in Uttar Pradesh, etc, based on the 1971 census.
Heavily populated states play a key role
The top five Indian states on the basis of population (Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu) account for 48 percent of the total Electoral College votes of MLAs and 45 percent of total votes of MPs. The BJP is in power in two of these states, while anti-BJP parties rule the other two. The AIADMK which is the ruling party in Tamil Nadu is currently facing a leadership crisis.
While the Constitution has taken utmost care to ensure that the voice of the minority is heard, it is the principle of natural justice that those states which have high population play a bigger role in the election of the president. The fact that there could be different parties in the majority in the Lok Sabha and in the Legislative Assembly from the state, plays a balancing act. To sum it up, the complexity of the method and the diversity of the Indian political system makes the presidential elections an exciting contest.
Here's a list of all Indian states and the number of Legislative Assembly seats and the value of an MLA's vote from that particular:
|S. No.||Name of the State||No. of Legislative Assembly seats||Value of the vote of each MLA||Total value of votes for the States|
|11||Jammu and Kashmir||87||72||6,264|
In Part II of the series, we will see how different parties and blocks are stacked up in various bodies for these elections.
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