Friday, January 19, 2018

My role in the run-off debate

 I write in response to “The dubious reformation of our Henry” by Rawle Boland in yesterday’s Express. Mr Boland wrote I “forfeited [my] perch, sadly, as a promising neutral pundit”.

He and others claim because I explained the run-off or two-round system (TRS) more closely estimates the preferences of an electorate than the first-past-the-post system (FPTP), I have endorsed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill in the eyes of the public.

If this is the case, then I am disappointed we are not prepared for this level of nuanced discourse in Trinidad and Tobago.

As a data scientist, I sought to add a dispassionate explanation of the mathematics of the system on the table, and I am sorry to learn we cannot fathom such an explanation without ascribing political allegiance to the party that proposed the system. As the People’s National Movement (PNM) public relations officer analogised about me earlier this year: a respected lawyer who argues the merits of an accused’s case does not pronounce on whether the defendant is innocent or guilty.

For the record, there are many good arguments not to support the bill.

Firstly, the one week given between the first mention of such a sweeping change and the one-day Lower House debate falls below what could be reasonably considered democratic.

Secondly, it is “self-serving” in that the arithmetic of the proposed system helps the incumbent United National Congress (UNC) more than any other party. (Space does not permit me to show the arithmetic here).

Thirdly, it is proposed by a government that is currently losing popularity in the polls.

Fourthly, other systems—such as proportional representation (PR)—can achieve an even more democratic result. 

Certainly, a reasonable person may decide any of these conside­rations outweighs any benefits provided by the bill. However, I have left it up to politicians and established political pundits to ana­lyse these political considerations. I resist the urge to do so now, to maintain my independence.

I cannot address all of the concerns Mr Boland raised against me. However, for the record, as early as November 4, 2013, the day of the St Joseph by-election, I wrote about the benefit of the TRS. The ranking of balloting systems from most democratic (most proportional) to least democratic (most disproportionate) are as follows: PR, Single Transferable Vote, Alternative Vote, TRS, FPTP.

Therefore, the two-round system is the least democratic system in use, save for the system we currently have. Many people have pointed out TRS is used mostly for presidential elections, not legislative elections. This is simply because countries who are serious about minimising disproportiona­lity use the TRS to choose a leader, but PR to elect representatives. 

Nigel Henry

data scientist and pollster

via e-mail