The “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) electoral system, or “plurality system,” produces a one-party government as a result of nationwide elections in single electoral districts to form a national parliament. In existence since the twelfth century, FPTP is the oldest electoral system in political history. It can be found worldwide in thirteen countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, India, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Malawi, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and Zambia. The ideal type of FPTP is the British electoral system, the so-called “Westminster model.”
One important advantage of FPTP is its simplicity. First, FPTP divides the whole territory in single-member districts with candidate ballots. Within each constituency, voters cast a single ballot for one candidate rather than for a party. Another advantage of FPTP is constituency representation: Every voter knows the local member of parliament and has direct access to political representation, which is evenly distributed over the country. The candidate with the highest number of valid votes in a given district is elected. He or she is the “first past the post” in the race between candidates on election day in a specific constituency.
Candidates for a seat in the national parliament need neither a minimum threshold of votes nor an absolute majority within their constituency; instead, the candidate with the plurality of the vote wins the seat in question. He or she needs just one vote more than the candidate in second place in the FPTP race. One main disadvantage of FPTP is poor party system representation. For example, in the U.K. model, FPTP has the tendency to favor major parties such as Labour and Conservative and to weaken small parties such as the Liberal and Green parties.
Within the framework of the FPTP electoral system, the translation of votes at general elections to seats in Parliament and the formation of a national government are not based on the share of the national vote, but on the share of parliamentary seats. Since 1935, every British government has been formed on the basis of a minority of the vote, with less than 50 percent of electoral support. Hence, the FPTP electoral system has been described as a “plurality system,” in contrast to a majority system; in fact, it is sometimes called a “single member plurality system” (SMP). The party with the highest number of winners of parliamentary seats forms a one-party government.
Another advantage of FPTP is the stability of the newly elected national government in particular, and of the political system in general, in contrast to coalition governments that might fall apart before the end of the parliamentary term. A further advantage is the speed of the political process: FPTP encourages a quick formation of a new government, avoiding lengthy interparty negotiations necessary to form a coalition government, and the single party in government with a clear majority of seats in parliament is able to decide and implement laws more quickly. A political system that uses FPTP as electoral law is normally stable, fast, and efficient, and displays a high degree of accountability for its actions and public policy.
SEE ALSO Elections ; Electoral Systems ; Parliaments and Parliamentary Systems ; Plurality ; Voting Schemes
Farrell, David M. 2001. Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction. Basingstoke, U.K., and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Christian W. Haerpfer