Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Run-off proposal a recipe for chaos

I want to answer Matt Kister and Vedavid Manick in their recent letters to the editor.

It is clear they are both on the same page as I am: we want proportional representation, so that any party getting a reasonable percentage of the votes should have a voice in Parliament.

The problem is that this run-off proposal will not give PR, or anything like it. I suspect that Mr Ramadhar thinks if each candidate wins by over 50 per cent, then the winning party will automatically have 50 per cent of the popular vote. This is not true! (Think of 21 seats at 51  per cent compared with 20 seats at 80 per cent). The only way to ensure we don’t get situations where parties win a lot of the popular vote, and still get no seats, is by real PR legislation. 

What is worse is that run-off can actually work to smother third parties. 

How? On election day, party three supporters have canvassed hard, and feel confident. They vote. Next day, the results are out, and they realise the two main parties are neck-and-neck at 20 seats each, and they have won just one seat, where they got 40 per cent of the vote.  

What will happen in the run-off is that this new knowledge, of what is the real political situation, will affect how people will vote in the run-off. This is where the tribalism will creep in. This is where the run-off will work to entrench two parties. 

Is this what we want? Is this what we will be spending a lot of time and a lot of money to do? 

Or, look at this scenario: First poll, A gets 8,000 votes (48 per cent). B gets 5,000.  C and D share the rest. Second poll: fewer people vote and B gets 50.5 per cent (5,500 votes). Who is the truer representative?

The entire thing has not been thought out. It is a recipe for chaos. A change like this cannot be done in a vacuum. A Constitution is a deeply integrated document. I cannot see why anyone wanting PR would come up with this, unless it is that they did not understand that you just can’t add up individual 50 per cents and come up with a group 50 per cent (This is why most of the run-off examples that people talk about are for presidential elections.)  

At the individual level, there  is nothing wrong with taking the person with the highest vote:  there will be many voices, and the only way that we can ever be certain that the winning candidate is over 50 per cent is by stifling anything other than two voices, either by forcing them to vote again in a two-horse race, or what is probably the same thing, by banning all other than two parties. Maybe this is what this bill is really about!

PA Morris

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