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Huge electoral disproportionality in Queensland Elections: but no coup (27 March 2012)

27/03/2012

Queensland, and indeed all of Australia, has just watched an astonishing elections result: the Australian Labour Party (ALP) crashed from 49 seats out of 89, to just 7 seats- a total wipe-out.

The Liberal National Party (LNP) went up from 37 seats to a massive 78 seats.

The losing Anna Bligh gave a gracious concession speech, in which she said the “people have clearly spoken” and she congratulated Campbell Newman, the Leader of the LNP.

Astonishing, no political party was complaining on the night the results became clear that the results were unfair in any way.

When the polls began to give clear indication of an LNP victory, Anna Bligh strangely appealed to the voters, even days before the voting ended, not to give too much control of Parliament to the LNP, as it would be unhealthy.

No commentator on any of the TV channels brought up the clear problem of electoral disproportionality in the Que0ensland elections.

What can Fiji learn from Queensland, and what can Queensland learn from its nearby small neighbour, New Zeeland?

Massive disproportionality in 2012

Percentage of votes and percentage of seats

 

In this Queensland State elections, while the ALP did lose a lot of support, it still retained 24% of the primary votes.

Seats deserved and Seats Won

But it merely won 8% of the seats (7), although on the basis of the votes it would have been entitled to 24 seats.

The LNP won 50% of the primary votes, but won 88% of the seats (78) whereas it would have been entitled to only 45 seats.

The other smaller parties had 16% of the primary votes, but only won 3% of the seats (a mere 3 seats) when they would have been entitled to perhaps 14 seats (out of which perhaps 10 should have gone to The Australian Party).

Despite these great disproportionalities, none of the parties protested at the results.

They all accepted the rules at the beginning of the game, and accepted the results, whichever way “the cookie crumbled”.

Not so in Fiji a few years ago.  A slight amount of disproportionality, and parties were complaining of electoral fraud, and some even advocated and supported a military coup.

The Military Regime which got established, has even been talking about “undemocratic” voting systems, when the results in Fiji were nowhere hear as bad as in Queensland.

Fiji could certainly learn from the Queensland experience of gracious losers in elections.

But extreme disproportionality is not good

 If Anna Bligh is genuine about wanting large parties in Parliament not to have totally overwhelming  and dominating presence, then ALP should be suggesting that the Queensland electoral system ought to be changed towards a more proportional one.

One good model is the NZ proportional List system, although suggesting this might irritate Queenslanders who turn their noses up at their small neighbour to the East.

One great topic for the commentators in Queensland before the election was the possibility that the LNP Leader (Newman) might not win his seat, while his Party won handsomely.

In the NZ List system, of course, Newman would be on the top of the List and would be guaranteed a seat in Parliament, even if he lost in his own constituency.  Such a ridiculous problem should not arise.

Unfortunately,  LNP and Campbell this year would not be too keen to have a change of electoral system now that it is working so well in their favour.

LNP would tell Anna Bligh that in the last 2009 Queensland State elections, ALP had only 42.3% of the votes, but 55% of the seats (49 seats); while LNP had almost the same percentage of the votes (41.6%) but a much smaller number of seats (37).

Those who gain from a system rarely want to change it.

Of course, the real losers then were the other small parties, who only won 3 seats while they were entitled to 14 seats according to their voting support in 2009; while in 2012 they received only 4 seats when they may have been entitled to about 20.

The Australian Party and the Greens ought to be taking up this issue urgently.

Two faults to be remedied

 The current Queensland voting system clearly converts small changes in the percentages of votes won, into very large shifts in the percentage of seats won.

Such volatility is extremely unfair to the large party that loses out, as you can see from the current ALP position after these elections.

It is also arguable that by allowing the winning party to sweep the seats in such an extreme fashion, is not being fair to the other party, nor is it good for accountability in the Parliament.

The second major unfairness is to the small parties who can rarely get the 50% required in any one constituency, although they might have a very large support throughout the state.

It is arguable that the Queensland Parliament is denied major moderating forces by having these small parties present in reasonable numbers which they deserve, purely by the percentage of the primary votes they won in the elections.

Given that these small parties also represent “new social movements” (like the Greens) they deserve their presence in parliament in proportion to their share of the total votes.

To marginalize them as currently, is to perpetuate a mechanism of social conservatism when what the electorate clearly want according to their votes, is some change in their parliamentary decision-making away from the historic conservatism.

 

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