This system (also known as a simple majority system)is based on simple plurality in single member constituencies: the candidate with the most votes wins the seat - hence the expression "first past the post". It is not necessary for a candidate to have a majority of the votes cast - merely one more vote than the nearest rival. The elector has a straightforward choice, but cannot express preferences or priorities.

Advantages of this system

> the voting and counting procedures are simple and easy to understand

> it maintains a direct link between an MP and a constituency - allowing personal contact between electors and their representatives

> it usually produces strong, stable governments without the need for coalitions.

Criticisms of this system

> it rewards parties with support concentrated in particular areas, but penalises parties with support which is evenly spread

> it favours the larger parties and under-represents smaller parties

> parliamentary seats gained do not reflect the national voting figures

> many votes are "wasted" in large majorities, or hopeless minorities

> candidates and governments can be elected on a minority of votes.

Thus, the present electoral system can be seen to fulfil some of the objectives of an electoral system (choice, strong government, etc) but falls short in other areas (accuracy of representation, representativeness of government).

Why is the electoral system being questioned?

There is considerable debate about the possibility of changing the electoral system to make it more accurately reflect voters' choices. Charter 88, the Electoral Reform Society, the smaller political parties and even some within the major parties advocate electoral reform, usually some form of proportional representation. There is also an argument for fixed term parliaments, to take the election date out of the hands of the governing party.

The reasons for questioning the present electoral system include:

> while the first past the post system might be appropriate in a two-party system, the advent of multi-party politics has exposed its inadequacies

> the smaller parties advocate PR, officially on the grounds of fairness but also out of self interest .