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In the Alternative Vote system, Bigger is Bountiful

13/03/2012

[The Fiji Times, 9 Sep 2001]

 

Is “big better” when it comes to political parties?  It would seem so.

 

This election proves the point I was making in my Fiji Times article of 15 June 2001 (“Small is not beautiful”).

 

The alternative vote system, without the element of proportionality, works heavily in favour of large parties, and against that of small parties.

 

Some parties (like the SVT, FAP, VLV) have been devastated because the voters have moved away from them.  But many (including SVT, PANU, BKV and NLUP) have not won the number of seats they deserve, given their share of the national vote.

 

The electoral system not only needs to be simplified to reduce the large proportions of invalid votes, but it must change towards proportionality to ensure fairness to the small parties.

 

First, look at the key results of this election.

 

Fijian Votes

 

The following table shows the proportions of Fijian communal votes won in 1999 and that in 2001.

 

Perc. of Fijian Votes

Change

1999

2001

 

SDL

 

50.1

50.1

MV

 

20.3

20.3

NLUP

 

4.2

4.2

SVT

38.0

8.6

-29.4

FAP

18.2

2.1

-16.1

VLV

19.4

0.2

-19.2

PANU

9.6

2.9

-6.6

NVTLP

9.1

1.4

-7.7

 

The most startling change from the 1999 election results is the collapse of the SVT, FAP and VLV votes, and the rise of the SDL and MV.

 

All the large Fijian supported parties in 1999 were decimated, losing votes to SDL and to MV, and to a small but significant extent to the NLUP.

 

We will see below, however, that these small parties did not even get the number of seats they deserved.

 

 

Indian Votes

 

The change in the Indian support was not so dramatic.

 

The NFP, the party standing for moderation and co-operation with the Fijian parties,  lost 9.5 percentage points, to drop to an all-time low of 22.5%.

 

Perc. of Indian Votes

1999

2001

Change

FLP

65.6

71.0

5.5

NFP

32.0

22.5

-9.5

NLUP

2.6

2.6

 

However, only a part of this loss went to the FLP which did gain 5.5 percentage points.

 

But part of NFP’s lost votes (some 2.6%) has actually gone to Baba’s NLUP, also another moderate, but more multiracial party.

 

It is therefore only partly true, that Indo-Fijian voters have moved towards the more extreme Indo-Fijian party, the FLP.

 

And the NLUP, far from splitting the FLP votes, as many had originally conjectured, would seem to have further eroded NFP support.  Interestingly, the NFP and NLUP are now working together in the moderates group, that is wishing to co-operate with SDL.

 

National Support

 

The following table indicates that the largest party, in terms of total voter support nationally is still the FLP with some 34% of the first preference votes (communal and open) cast in the 2001 Elections.

 

Perc.

of 2001

Votes

FLP

33.9

SDL

27.1

NFP

10.2

MV

9.6

SVT

5.5

NLUP

4.6

BKV

2.2

FAP

1.3

PANU

1.2

 

SDL follows close behind with 27%, the NFP and MV with around 10% each,  and SVT and NLUP with around 5%.

 

 

Probably the most interesting result is given by the following table, which calculates how many parliamentary seats each party would have been entitled to, if the numbers in parliament was in proportion to the numbers of votes they received nationally.

 

The extraordinary result is that the two largest parties, the SDL and FLP, have won far more seats than they are actually entitled to.

 

Seats

Seats

Advantage

Party

Entitled

Won

SDL

19

33

14

FLP

24

27

3

NFP

7

1

-6

SVT

4

0

-4

BKV

2

0

-2

NLUP

3

2

-1

MV

7

6

-1

FAP

1

0

-1

PANU

1

0

-1

 

Had the voting system ensured proportionality in aggregate at the national level, then NFP would have another 6 seats in parliament, SVT another 4, BKV would have had 2 seats, and MV, PANU and FAP another 1 seat each.

 

Note that BKV, PANU and FAP currently have no seats in Parliament at all.

 

What has happened?

 

Effect of Preferences

 

As I pointed out in my previous articles, the large parties usually have the largest blocks of votes, on the first count.

 

Under the alternative vote system, the smallest parties are eliminated and their second, third and lower preferences are moved to the larger parties, who eventually win.

 

In the 1999 elections, the FLP was the biggest beneficiary, gaining the lower preferences of  most of the smaller parties. This time around, it was the SDL.

 

It would seem (without taking into account below the line votes) that some 18 seats were won by the SDL only because lower preference votes were given to SDL by NLUP (12 seats), NFP (8), MV (7),  BKV (4), NVTLP (3), and (surprise, surprise) even lower preference votes coming from FLP (5) and SVT (4).

 

In the 2001 Elections, the FLP was placed last on most parties’ preferences, except by the FAP and PANU.  But the first preference votes for FAP and PANU were so low, that it made little difference.  Only 3 FLP seats were won on preferences, with the support of PANU and FAP.

 

 

MV won 2 seats on preferences from SDL (1) and SVT (1).  The one NFP seat was won through preferences from NLUP, SDL, and BKV.

 

Probably the most astute win on preferences was by NLUP’s Ofa Duncan, with the lower preferences of NFP, FAP, SVT and (surprise, surprise) FLP.  And there is also the odd seat where the final result seems to have been determined by votes below the line, and votes going to parties who did not even have candidates (but had symbols above the line).

 

What Now?

 

When the new Government is installed (almost certainly led by SDL, and hopefully with FLP as a partner) there needs to be a multi-party process of re-examining the parts of the 1997 Constitution that members of the Fiji public have expressed concerns about.

 

Amongst others, the electoral system must be re-examined seriously, with a view to improving the proportionality of the system (to be fair to the smaller parties), and reducing the very high numbers of invalid votes.

 

The ball is in the court of the two largest parties (SDL and FLP) who, unfortunately, are gaining from the current system.

 

Will they rise above their current sectional interest?

 

Or will they wait until the system works against them.  By which time, of course, some other party will be gaining, and will not want to change.

 

Time will tell.

 

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