By Dr Lawrence A Joseph
Whatever decisions are made with regards to altering a constitution, it is most important that the implications of those decisions are worked through in a thorough manner before those decisions are implemented.
If decisions are not worked through in a proper manner, the populace may find that a particular decision is quite confusing and may become less satisfied with the new dispensation than with an old concept. Take for example the concept of Proportional Representation, if one is not careful, this concept may be quite illusory.
Proportional Representation (PR) refers to a number of electoral systems where seats in parliament are more or less distributed to parties in proportion to the votes cast for those parties at general elections. The PR system is contrasted with the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system which is presently being utilised in Grenada at general elections. In this situation, whichever candidate obtains a simple majority vote in a particular constituency wins the seat and becomes the representative for the constituency. In other words the winner takes all. Whilst the FPTP system is relatively simple, some PR systems may be quite complicated and may prove to be very confusing to many voters. There are three main types of PR systems as listed below.
The Party List Voting System is most common in Europe and South Africa. Guyana also uses this type of PR balloting for the specific purpose of alleviating the racial dimension. With this type, each party puts up a list of candidates equal to the number of seats in the District; voters would then express preference for a party (in a Closed List System) or for candidates (in an Open List system); parties would then receive votes in accordance with their shares of the votes and with the closed list system the party determines who becomes its parliamentarians. With an open list system parliamentarians are chosen by their popularity with the voters.
The Single Transferable Vote System is used by Northern Ireland and Malta. With this system, the names of all candidates are listed on the ballot paper with a series of numbers 1 to 9 alongside each name. Voters would then indicate their order of choice for each candidate with the number 1 being the first choice the number 2 being the second choice and so forth. Parliamentarians are chosen based on their popularity with the voters utilising the ‘transferred votes’ of voters.
The Mixed-Member Proportional Voting System is a combination of the FPTP system for electing candidates to constituencies with a PR element for obtaining PR candidates. This type of balloting is utilised in Germany, Venezuela, Scotland and Wales among others.
In general the claimed advantages of Proportional Representation systems which are used all over the world include: more accurate representation of parties; better representation for political and racial minorities; less wasted votes; higher levels of voter turn-out; and disincentive for gerrymandering of constituency (or district) boundaries. The claimed disadvantages include: too complex for many voters; may discourage voter participation; may encourage too many minority parties; delay in the announcement of an official winner following general elections; disproportionate power to minority parties; enables a high incidence of coalition governments which in itself may retard national development.
From all indications, the Mixed-Member Proportional Voting System is being mooted by some for Grenada. It seems to be the intent that the seats of the constituency representatives would be kept but provisions would be made for additional PR seats in parliament. Each party would be entitled to put up a list of candidates before the elections take place for insertion on the ballot paper. PR parliamentarians would be selected from that list in order of priority. For that purpose a pre-determined threshold of votes to be obtained by PR candidates would have been established.
It is claimed by some that this type of PR system for Grenada would ensure that there is always a Leader of the Opposition in parliament and that at least the main opposition party would always have a say in governance. Alternatively, it is claimed by others that in order to obtain the same results the Constitution could be amended to provide that in the event of a ‘clean sweep’ of the polls by one party, then the party obtaining the second highest number of votes would be entitled to nominate a Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives who in turn would be entitled to nominate Opposition Senators. This approach it is claimed would eliminate the possible confusion that may be inherent in the PR system.