Everything You Need to Know About Indian Presidential Elections

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On July 17, 2017, India will elect it's 14th president in what is becoming a hotly contested race. Learn about India's unique system for electing officials, the role of the president, and why this race matters to the people of one of the most densely populated countries on Earth.

India's Upcoming Presidential Election

As India's presidential election approaches, the world watches to see how party politics will shape the face of the democratic government. Explore the anatomy of the office of president, the complex way India guarantees all votes matter, and chime in to let us know what you think of this nail-biting race for office.

Why a President and a Prime Minister?

While the U.S. Government is headed by a chief executive who is in charge of guiding the federal government, in India the government has evolved to a system with two heads of state: the president, who is the representative of the people and the symbolic head of government, and a prime minister, who is elected by the lower house of representatives and holds the bulk of executive power. The president can be any qualified individual from the country's population, while the prime minister must be a member of the lower or upper house of representatives.


What Does the President Do?

Although the president of India doesn't have the same weighty responsibilities as the prime minister, the office is still important. As the formal leader of the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches, as well as nominal head of the armed forces, the president has the power to approve or veto new laws, decide which party is invited first to form the new government in the case of a hung parliament, and can take action against any elected official - including the prime minister - in the event that said officials are accused of violating the constitution. So, even though the powers of the president are limited, they are exceedingly necessary to the fair representation of people of India and to hold powerful political figures to a high standard.

Who Are the Candidates?

As in American democratic elections, there are a number of candidates who vie for the office of president, each with their individual and party backers.


The early candidates included:

  • Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and former governor of West Bengal.
  • Draupadi Murmu, governor of Jharkhand, tribal leader, and a member of the BJP party.
  • Miera Kumar, the former Lok Sabha Speaker (and the current Opposition candidate).
  • Ram Nath Kovind, the Bihar governor (and the current BJP party candidate).

Of the four and many others, all but Mr. Kovind and Ms. Kumar have left the race. While it is believed by many that the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Mr. Kovind will carry the election thanks to support for current Prime Minister Narendra Modi's crackdown on corruption and widespread appeal among what is known as the 'Backward Classes,' Ms. Kumar and the Opposition have promised 'an ideological battle' against the current ruling party.


How Does India's Voting System Work?

In India, political representatives are elected using a system of proportional representation through single transferable vote cast by the electorate. Unlike other elected officials, the people do not vote for the President directly. This is to ensure that the candidate awarded the office isn't just the one with the most votes among a single densely populated region, but the one who is preferred by the largest portion of the population.

On first glance the system is confusing, but on further inspection, it proves to be quite ingenious and offers a chance for even low-caste voters to have an equal say in government by distributing votes more fairly.

Let's take a look at how a similar system would work in the United States to elect the office of president:

  • We start with a little bit of advanced math to determine how many votes each representative would be allowed to cast. For example, the population of Texas currently stands at 27.47 million. Using rounding, we would assume 27 million people live in Texas. We would divide that number by the number of congressional representatives - 2 senators and 36 members of the House - for a total of 38. So, the number of votes as part of the electoral college each member would be allowed to cast would be 27,000,000 divided by 38, or 710,526, divided by 1,000 (per India's constitution), giving a final vote tally of 710.
  • Now, electors must determine the quota of votes needed to award the election. This is done by determining the number of votes that can be awarded divided by the number of seats to be filled (or cut in half, in the case of President) and adding one. So, if there are say, 35,000 votes to be awarded among the electorate of all 50 states (700 multiplied by 50 for example), divided by two, plus one, we would end up with a final tally of 17,501.
  • The next step would be to distribute the votes among the candidates. This is done by each elector marking successive preferences for the office. For example, from the past election, an elector may have marked their ballot 1) Trump, 2) Clinton, 3) Sanders, 4) Johnson.
  • If any candidate reaches the needed 17,501, they are declared the winner. If no winner can be declared using electors first preferences, then the ballots are tallied again using the numbers from the second preference line. Thus, if Trump were to secure 10,000 votes, Clinton were to receive 10,000 votes, Sanders were to receive 9,000 votes, and Johnson to gain 6,000 votes (totaling (35,000 first-round votes), second choice votes would be counted. In the second-round, if Trump were to receive 7,400 votes, Clinton 7,500 votes, Sanders 8,600 votes, and Johnson 11,500, Sanders would win the election, in spite of having fewer first-choice votes (9,000 + 8,600 = 17,600).

Complex, but an interesting way for the government to provide all people of India with fair representation in the government.

What do you think? Are you watching the Indian Presidential elections closely? Share your thoughts below and join the conversation.

By Patricia Willis
December 2017
current events politics

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