Sunday, January 21, 2018

What the Constitution Bill doesn’t care about

The Constitution Amendment Bill (2014) wants to bring it about that the winner of a constituency election must not only be first past the post, he must obtain more than 50 per cent of the votes cast.

If there are more than two candidates and the person with the most votes does not have the magic figure of more than 50 per cent, then a new election (called a “supplementary poll”) will be held, and only the top two candidates from the proper election (now called the first round) will be allowed to take part.

By this contrivance, the electorate is presented with only two candidates, and one of them is bound to obtain more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. All that matters to the amendment is that the winner can boast of having majority support, which is defined as getting more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. Not counting the turn-outs in the euphoric years 1956 (81.87 per cent) and 1961 (83.62 per cent) and the no-vote campaign year 1971 (25.59 per cent), we can generalise from published data that in each of ten elections up to 2010, about 30 per cent of the registered voters did not vote.

Fifty per cent of the actual votes cast is only 35 per cent of the registered voters in a constituency. Does getting 35 per cent of the registered voters in a constituency qualify as majority support?

The problem is not the votes that went to the third and fourth parties. And those votes should not be a target. The problem is the 30 per cent of the votes that are not cast.

The elected representative can have more meaningful majority support if the 30 per cent who abstain can be persuaded to carry out their civic duty and cast their votes. To work for this is much less ignoble than to impose a two-person election and hope to salvage the votes of the eliminated parties. The Amendment is a sad confession that there has been an abandonment of the principle that a person elected with whatever percentage or by whatever majority has a duty to represent the whole constituency including those who voted for him, those who voted for someone else, their dependents and other minors, and those who did not vote at all. The main cause of this travesty is the gang mentality sponsored by the way party politics is allowed to operate.

Victory speeches on election night pay fleeting tribute to this lost value. The winning leader proclaims that the newly elected government is the government of all the voters and all the people of the country. By next morning nobody remembers that.

Kenneth Ramchand

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