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In the AV system, small is not beautiful


[The Fiji Times, 15 June 2001]

Many small parties are merrily exchanging their second or third preferences, entering into “umbrella” relationships, and all kinds of alliances, in the run-up to the election.

Do the small parties understand that these are not fair relationships?

Do the small parties understand that, after the elections, they will be at the mercy of the large political parties, if they want to be part of Cabinet?

For two reasons.

First,  if in any particular constituency, the small party is not one of the two largest parties, then it will always be the small party’s votes which move to the larger parties.  Not the other way round.

Second, even if the Small Party ends up with a few seats in Parliament, that Small Party will not be entitled as of constitutional right, to any position in Cabinet, unless it comes out of their larger partner’s share.  And, the Small Party’s seats have no value, in deciding on the “alliance’s” share of Cabinet seats.

Preference sharing is not  “fair”

Small political parties may think that exchanging their second preferences with a large party,  is a “fair” exchange.   But not so.

For small parties will almost certainly contribute their second preference votes to the larger parties.  But the larger parties’ second preference votes are unlikely to be enjoyed  by the smaller parties.

Supposing in a constituency, this is the result of the counting of the first preference votes.

Large Party: 45%

Big Party: 35%

Small Party: 20%

Since no party has 50% of the votes, the Small Party will be eliminated.  Its votes will be transferred to their alliance partner- Large Party.

This is likely to happen in most constituencies. Nearly always, it will be the Large Party which enjoys the other’s second preference votes.  The Small Party is unlikely to enjoy the Large Party’s second preference.

Exchanging of preferences between a large party and a small party is not necessarily a “fair” exchange, especially if the small party’s votes are scattered throughout the country.

But supposing by some fluke, the support of the Small Party is concentrated enough in a few areas to win some seats, say 7.

The Small Party’s problems do not end there- because winning 7 seats does not entitle it to any seat in Cabinet, and it’s 7 seats in Parliament have little value for theAlliance.

No entitlement to cabinet seats

Supposing that after the elections, the result is as follows:

Large Party:    18 seats

Big Party:        18 seats

Small Party:      7 seats

Remaining small parties all add up to 28, with none having more than 7.

According to the 1997 Constitution (Section 99(5)), the Prime Minister must invite all parties who have more than 7 seats, “to be represented in Cabinet in proportion to their numbers in the House”.

Suppose that Cabinet has 20 positions. Only 2 parties are entitled to be in Cabinet, in proportion to their numbers: Large Party and Big Party.

The Prime Minister therefore has to allocate half the Cabinet positions (10 ) to the Large Party,  while the Big Party is entitled to half the Cabinet positions (10).

If the Large Party (because of its alliance or “umbrella” relationship) now wants to give some cabinet positions to the Small Party, then these seats must come out of the Large Party’s own share of 10 positions (Constitution, Section 99(6)).

Therefore the number of seats in Cabinet enjoyed by the “umbrella” or “coalition” will still be 10- no more.  The Big Party’s share in Cabinet remains as 10.

In effect, the Small Party’s 7 seats in Parliament are wasted as far as the share of Cabinet is concerned.


Better to Merge

If however, the Small Party and the Large Party had merged, and registered with the Supervisor of Elections as a combined party (say Mammoth Party), then the results for Cabinet would be different.

Their votes would be effectively pooled throughout the country (as before).  The Mammoth Party would now win 25 seats (18 plus 7), while the Big Party would still have 18 seats.

The 20 Cabinet positions would be shared in the ratio of 25 to 18, in favour of the Mammoth Party.

The Mammoth Party would then be entitled to 12 Ministerial positions, while the Big Party would be entitled to 8 ministerial positions.

The 7 seats which the Small Party would effectively be winning for the Mammoth Party, would then be adding 2 more ministerial positions in Cabinet for the Umbrella or Coalition.

In fact, the Small Party could probably ask the Umbrella for more “safe” seats than 7, if justified by the extent of their voter support throughout the country.

But as a separate Small Party, they will have no constitutional entitlement in Cabinet.

Must clarify legally

These Cabinet sharing issues were clarified by the parties in 1999, when the Korolevu Declaration was signed.  But many of our current parties were not even in existence then.  And the Korolevu Declaration probably has no legal standing.

The Constitutional provisions relating to membership of Cabinet have not been tested legally.

It would be in the interest of small political parties to do so, well before the elections.

They would also be wise to examine the options of being formally merged with the larger parties.

Otherwise they may be in for a shock after the elections.

And the last thing this country needs straight after the elections, is for political parties to start quarrelling and mounting legal challenges over who should be part of Cabinet and in what numbers.

The Fiji public has had enough of political wrangling over government of this country.

[Appeared as “Small is not beautiful”.  The Fiji Times,  15 June 2001.]


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