Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Proportional representation preferred

Many of the other proposals brought forward by the current Government are commendable attempts at constitutional reform and a step in the right direction. 

However with the specific issue of the run-off elections, this has the likely effect of obliterating the minority and eliminating any chance of the democratic principle of proportional representation at the national level. 

Depending on the model of democratic governance (parliamentary or presidential or a hybrid), it is advisable to institute a type of governance that will be representative of all sections of the population, in particular, divided societies as T&T. This is a serious consideration and even though there is a “first past the post” (FPTP) system where majority rules in a parliamentary system this form of governance may be more restrictive in nature given the diverse culture. The “run-off” is an electoral mechanism, not a principle. The question I have is what is the principle behind the “run-off”? If it gives persons the opportunity for majority representation then this is not changing the democratic dynamics. The problem is that in the current system and the proposed electoral system it is 50 per cent plus 1 vote that will win the election. What of the other 49 per cent of those who cast their votes? My opinion is that we must move to more of a direct democracy. The run-off will not deal with the other 49% who basically did not get the maximum economic value of their vote.

While this particular proposed amendment is geared towards giving an opportunity for voters to choose between two candidates to represent them, it does not give the citizens greater power. This gives more power to a party that controls a majority in the House rather than creating power between Parliament and the People. 

Proportional Representation (PR) has been included at the local government level. In numerous readings, PR is considered a democratic principle rather than an electoral system. Electoral systems allow a vote per person. However, the economic value of that vote is of no consequence if a majority party is allowed to rule and benefit one portion of the population while the others are sidelined. All votes must be equal in effect and one way to do that is by instituting PR which would be more democratic in nature than anything else. If anything the People’s Partnership should concretise its partnership of parties by enacting constitutional amendments in a “partnership” format which is PR. 

While under PR may be difficult and take longer to enact laws and make decisions, the interest of the country will be paramount and self-interest will have to be subordinate to the general interest. It results in better laws and decisions. For those who only seek their interest, there are many mechanisms to address. If the concern is that a minority would be able to wield more power and stunt development, then this can be dealt with the recall or referendum mechanisms where people have the power to reject that Member of Parliament if citizens’ interests are not met.

Some research points to the age of democracy as a critical matter in determining the success of an economy, not so much the electoral mechanism. T&T is a fairly young democracy plagued by many self-interested “majoritarians”.

We must be careful of the tyranny of a majority which has been existent in T&T for many years.

Anand Heeraman

Doctoral candidate in 

political economy