Converting vote share into seats key to victory

Converting vote share into seats key to victory

New Delhi: In the recent assembly elections in Haryana, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) at least doubled its vote share to 6.73% from 3.22%, yet it ended up winning just the one seat it had won in 2005.

Psephologists and academics say this, and other data from the assembly elections held this month in three states, Maharashtra, Haryana, and Arunachal Pradesh reinforce a trend that has been evident for at least a decade—ever since coalitions became a way of life in India.

Also See Final Count (Graphics)

The resulting fragmentation, apart from ensuring the lack of correlation between vote share and seats, has meant a dilution in the representative nature of the government that rules a state, or even the country.

“It is because of the presence of multiple parties in the fray. We have a first-past-the-post electoral system where you do not have to get 50+1 votes to win. In such cases, the vote share and the number of seats will not be proportionate," said B. Venkatesh Kumar, professor of political science in Mumbai university.

Thus, in the recent elections in Maharashtra, the Bharatiya Janata Party won fewer seats despite winning more of the popular vote than it did the last time elections to the state assembly were held. In Haryana, the Indian National Lok Dal won three times (31) the seats it did despite winning less of the popular vote than it did the last time.

The trend is evident even in the Congress’ performance in Maharashtra. In the October state assembly elections, the party won 82 seats despite winning 21.01% of the popular vote.

In 2004, it had won 69 seats and 21.15% of the vote. It contested from 157 seats in 2004 and 169 this year.

N. Bhaskar Rao, psephologist and chairman of Centre for Media Studies, a Delhi-based think tank, said the winner in an Indian election is usually the party that succeeds in converting the votes polled into a seat.

“Converting the votes into seat is an art and the political party which succeeds in doing that emerges as the winner in democracy. A number of factors, such as selection of candidates, constituencies, campaign, use of media and assessment of the social combination in the constituency are involved in this. They are interlinked too," Rao said.

Interestingly, the BSP, which has been consistently increasing its vote share in several states, including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi hasn’t managed to implement this conversion as evident from its performance in Haryana.

“BSP is a perfect example for a party that increases its vote share constantly but fails to transform it into number of seats... Vote share is important for your sustainability as a party and to keep your party status intact. But for practical purposes seats become important for a political party," Rao said.

Across India, however, the fragmentation of the vote can be attributed to the emergence of newer parties which usually means more candidates.

In Maharashtra, for instance, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS)—a 3-year-old party which broke away from the Shiv Sena —polled around 5.7% of the popular vote and won 13 seats. This is the first assembly election in which the party contested.

Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint