Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Right to Recall

Voters in Chhattishgarh have recently exercised their 'right to recall' elected representatives. Although the general reception of the idea, strongly advocated by Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, has been welcoming, this article advises caution.

The manner in which this worked in Chhattisgarh is described in the story linked above thus:
'The Chhattisgarh recall ballot papers have only two symbols — both chairs with one occupied and another empty. The electorate will vote on the empty chair if they want to recall the elected representative or exercise their franchise on the occupied chair if they want the person to remain in office.'

I don't understand how this fits in with our First Past the Post (FPP) system? Rarely, if ever, does the winning candidate get a majority of votes cast. In our multi-party elections, the winner's average votes tend to be between 25 and 40%. How, then, can we expect that the same person will have the confidence of more than 50% of the electorate on a recall ballot? Of course, popularity changes while in office. But surely, the entry criterion cannot be less demanding than the one required to stay on the job? Or have I missed something in the manner of original elections to local bodies in Chhattisgarh?

Of course, one may say that in the original election, there are several opponents, and therefore vote-share tends to be less than majority; while in the recall vote, the only options are to let them continue in office or recall. This works on certain assumptions - let us assume that in the original poll, there were three candidates - A, B and C. A won the poll by getting 36% of the total votes cast, while B and C got 33% and 31% respectively. How do we predict voter behaviour in this original poll in the hypothetical case that C wasn't in the fray. There are no run-off elections in the FPP system, and it is entirely possible that most of the people who voted for C would have wanted B as their second alternative. Demanding of A to demonstrate a simple majority later without modifying the FPP system is strange.
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