The claim

“It’s a system so obscure that it is only used by three countries in the whole world – Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Our system in contrast is used by half the world.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, speech in Sale, Manchester, April 11, 2011

The background

Much has been made of the “obscurity” of AV. We are now all well aware that only Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji use the Alternative Vote system for their general elections.

But what of the countries that follow First Past The Post (FPTP)? Very little has been said of these, or indeed of what the rest of the world does. FactCheck takes a closer look.

The analysis

Foreign Secretary William Hague said our system has been “copied by many, including the US”. And he’s right, FPTP is used in 50 countries, going on stats from the Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

The world’s population is 6.9 billion. Of these, 2.5 billion people (mainly in China) still live under authoritarian rule, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010.

FPTP covers 2.3 billion people (though this includes India’s population of 1.2 billion) across its 50 countries.

The Alternative Vote meanwhile covers a total population of 29.3m – across Australia, PNG and Fiji.

However of the 50 FPTP countries, FactCheck found that 41 are former or current British territories, colonies or protectorates.

The 41 are: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, Canada, Cook Islands, Dominica, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Federated States of Micronesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Niue, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Soloman Islands, Sudan, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, Uganda,  United Kingdom, United States, Virgin Islands, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The remaining nine of IDEA’s 50 are: Azerbaijnan, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Liberia, Madagascar, the Marshall Islands, Oman, Palau and Tanzania (which was designated a British mandate post WW1 until 1961).

The verdict

Mr Hague said it would be very “unBritish” to change our electoral system.

And from all of our statistical globe trotting, FactCheck has gleaned that FPTP is clearly a very British export – 41 of the 50 countries that use FPTP are former or current British colonies.

Mr Cameron is right; around half the democratic population does use First Past The Post.

What does seem worth noting however is that not one European country, apart from the UK, uses FPTP.

Plus, the most popular voting system (by the number of countries in the world, rather than population) is List Proportional Representation or List PR.

71 countries use List PR, including seven of the top 10 ranking countries on the EIU’s Democracy Index. The UK ranks at number 19 on the EIU’s list of 26 “full” democracies.

By Emma Thelwell