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For stability and good governance: a proportional List system

13/03/2012

[The Fiji Times, 6 March 2001]

 

In my previous article, I had explained why both the “First-past-the-post” system and the Alternative Vote system, by themselves, have severe weaknesses when applied toFiji.

 

This article suggests another system (there are no doubt others) that may encourage greater stability from election to election, and better quality MP’s and Ministers.

 

This electoral system will ensure that political parties will obtain the right number of seats in parliament, exactly in proportion to the number of votes they receive nationally.

 

I first explain whyFijicould benefit from a “Party List” element in our system, to enable political parties to call on the services of capable persons to serve professionally and without local bias, in parliament and Cabinet, without endangering their families’ livelihoods.

 

What kind of Cabinet Minister?

 

Of course, good governance requires Members of Parliament to look after their local constituency needs for water, electricity, roads, education, health services, etc.

 

But good governance also needs Cabinet Ministers, who have the professional management and economy-related skills required to contribute to national decision-making, without favour or bias, in an increasingly complex global world order.

 

In both the indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities, such skills are found in the largely educated and commercially experienced classes- amongst professionals, the civil service bureaucracy and business organisations.  But their salaries are already many times that of ordinary Parliamentarians, and often higher than that of Cabinet Ministers.

 

Such persons (and we all know many of them) cannot, and should not be expected to risk their family’s welfare, by resigning from their normal occupations, in order to risk an election- for the dubious pleasure of serving their communities as Cabinet Ministers (or even ordinary Members of Parliament).

 

Often they fail to get elected. Their skills are not appreciated by the majority of ordinary voters (either indigenous Fijian or Indo-Fijian), many of whom vote along traditional lines, with little regard for the quality of candidates in front of them.

 

We all know many a good Cabinet Minister, who served his or her Ministry and the whole country well, but could not get elected  or even stand as a candidate  because he or she did not bestow extra favours to their constituency.  Voters chose others who made wild promises, or who appealed to forces of tradition.

 

Fiji’s parliament requires both kinds of parliamentarians- one to represent constituencies’ local needs for water, electricity, roads, education, health etc.  And the other to professionally serve the nation as Cabinet Ministers. Sometimes, of course, the two may coincide.

 

What Electoral System?

 

I outline a simplified system, the details of which can be arrived at following discussions amongst the parties.  Suppose that there is a 71 member parliament.

 

Before the election, each Party will publish a “Party List” of their candidates in order of importance.  Some of those on the List can be actual candidates in the local constituency elections.

 

While some on the Party List may not stand at all for any constituency election, but are competent people who will offer themselves for Parliament and Cabinet, should their Party win sufficient votes to get them in.

 

Each voter will have 2 votes (2 ballot papers).

 

One national ballot paper will require voters to just make one tick against their choice of “national” political party.  These “national” party votes of all the voters throughout the country, will be counted to determine what percentage of the national vote is gained by each party (column 2).

 

Column (3) then gives the total number of MPs each Party will end up with in Parliament as a result, without fail– regardless of how many they win in the local constituency elections.

 

(1)                   (2)                   (3)                                           (4)                   (5)

 

Decided by National Votes

Local Constituency Result

Selected from

Party List

Party

Perc of Votes Received

Seats Entitled in Parliament

Seats Won in Constituencies

Remaining Number to be  Selected

Frog

25

18     =

6       +

12

Mongoose

30

21    =

8        +

13

Toad

35

25    =

         15       +

10

Independents

(10)

(7)      =

7        +

0

Total

100

71   =

         36    +

35

 

And the provisions of multi-party government can operate exactly as it does at the moment.

 

To know what the result would have been like in all the past elections inFiji, just fill in the proportions of votes (first preference) received by each Party and multiply that by 71.

There will be no unfairness to any Party; no hocus pocus; no good luck or bad luck, no russian roulette depending on electoral boundaries or the system of voting used for the local constituencies (see below).

 

The only way for a party to increase their number of seats in Parliament, will be to increase their national support.

 

Ethnic Balance

 

In Fiji currently, if all voters choose to vote purely along racial lines, some 52% of the parliamentarians (36) will be elected by Fijian votes, some 41% (29 MPs) by Indo-Fijians, and 7% (6 MPs) by others.

 

These proportions will change in favour of indigenous Fijians over time because of demographic changes: Indo-Fijians have a lower  birth rate, and high rate of emigration; indigenous Fijians have a higher birth rate, and a larger proportion of young people.

 

If parties remain racial, then Fijian parties can never get more than 36 of the MPs while Indo-Fijian parties can never get more than 29 MPs.  The only way for parties to increase their numbers in Parliament will be to appeal across racial barriers.

 

The choice of Prime Minister and the shape of the multi-party Government will likewise be determined.

 

How will the MPs actually be selected?  Some will come from the “Local Constituency” election results; the remainder, to make up the National Quotas, will come from the “Party Lists”.

 

Local Constituency MPs

 

Each voter will get a second ballot paper, in order to elect their “local representative”.  Let there be 36 “locally elected” MPs elected from 36 constituencies, by whatever method.    Suppose that the party results of the local constituency elections come out as listed in column 4, with the numbers adding up to 36.  (you can choose your own numbers).

 

These are the MPs who will represent the local constituency.  

 

“Party List” MPs

 

To get to the total in column 3, the Party will now select their remaining candidates from their Party List.

 

Column 5  tells each Party how many MPs they can select from their “Party List”, to make up their full required quota in parliament.  (Column 4 + Column 5 will give you the total number in Column 3).

 

Suppose by some fluke of voter distribution, Frog Party has only won 6 seats in the local constituencies; their national entitlement is 18; so this Party can now select 12 more from their Party List (starting from the top, and leaving out all the ones who have already won in a local constituency).

 

The Mongoose Party won only 8 in the constituencies; they are entitled to 21; so they may now select 13 candidates from their Party List.

 

Toad Party, perhaps because of their voter distribution, or preferences, or boundaries, won only 15 seats in the local constituencies; they are entitled to 25; so may now nominate 10 MPs from their “Party List”.

 

The Independents won 7 seats in the local constituency, and this number is brought over from column 4.  (There may need to be some small adjustments if the Independents happen to win more seats than they are proportionately entitled to.)

 

Other Benefits

 

First, the actual location of boundaries will not make a difference to the number of seats won by Parties in parliament, although the local representation may change.   Boundaries can therefore be set for the complete convenience of voters and their local MPs.

 

Second, it will not make a difference to the national result which method of voting (whether First-Past-the-Post or the Alternative Vote) is used.  Although the local result may be affected.

 

Third, Political Parties can discuss what kinds of constituencies they would be comfortable with for the local constituencies- communal, common roll, or cross-voting.

 

Fourth, the “Party List” system will allow all parties some flexibility to create balanced representation for their Party in Parliament, so as to foster the “minorities” usually left out in normal elections:  other ethnic groups, women, youth, regional representation; or whatever.

 

Of course, the Party List system is also open to abuse, with “undesirable” candidates getting into Parliament and Cabinet through the “back door”, and not being subject to voter rejection.  However, the placing of an “undesirable” name on a Party List, must make that party less attractive to voters- and their national aggregate vote and number of seats entitled, will suffer accordingly.  And parties will know that.

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