Presidential polls: what is a two-round system?

As of November 2018, six presidential elections have taken place in Africa. Of these, only one (Cameroon) elected its president by First-Past-the-Post, a simple system where the candidate with the most votes is elected. The other five (Sierra Leone, Egypt, Mali, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar) have all used a system that many people believe helps to produce a more democratic result. This system is called a Run-Off vote or the Two-Round System. But why is this method so popular with newly set-up democracies?


As some people argue, the traditional first-past-the-post voting has a problem: what if there are so many candidates that the winner only gets a small percentage of the total vote? It might be troubling for a country to have a president that has not been given the support at least of a majority of the people.

Two-Round System proposes a solution to that by introducing two rounds of voting, as the name suggests. In the first round of voting, all candidates are allowed to compete for the presidential post and the votes are totalled. The two candidates with the most support in the first round are selected and all the other ones are eliminated. The top two candidates then campaign again, and a while later the second vote is held. This means that the people have the advantage of being able to choose from a variety of presidents, but the president also has the advantage of being elected with support of a majority of the population.


The idea of a second round seems to be useful. For example, in the two-round system in France in 2017 the most popular candidate for president, Emmanuel Macron, came first with only 24.01% of the vote in the first round, but went up to 66.10% in the second. This means that over 42% of voters who did not support Macron before have declared that they will stand by their leader thanks to the second round vote. However, in practice, many more countries did not need to use the second round at all. Of the African countries that had Two-Round elections in 2018, only one (Sierra Leone) had to go to the second round: in the rest the top candidate was already so popular that he was elected immediately. There are also very few cases where this system is used where the most popular candidate in the first round is not also the most popular in the second. If the top candidate will be elected anyway, is a second round even useful?


Whether your country uses a one-round or a two-round system, if you have been given a vote it is always important that you use it. If you want to make a change to your country, no matter how big or small, voting for the people that represent your views is always the best place to start.



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