The Proposal for Proportional Representation

Electoral Reform

The Government of Mauritius has set up a Ministerial Committee to look into several issues which include the introduction of a small dose of proportional representation (PR) in the electoral system of Mauritius. Our present electoral system is based on the First Past The Post (FPTP) system electing 62 MPs and the nomination of up to 8 Best Loser MPs from unreturned candidates. This system has so far been able to maintain the social cohesion of the country marvellously. PR is a very controversial issue and needs to be studied in depth before putting it into practice. Let us study in detail what PR is about and what would be its consequences if ever it were introduced.

What is Proportional Representation?

At present, all our MPs are democratically elected by the people. Even the Best Loser MPs contest the general election and are returned to the National Assembly on the merit of the votes they have received and with regard to the community to which they belong. In brief, all our MPs have to go through the election exercise and are chosen by the people. In PR, they are not elected by the people. Instead, they are chosen by their Leader and imposed on the population.

The rationale underpinning all proportional representation (PR) systems is to reduce the disparity between a party’s share of the national vote and its share of the parliamentary seats. If a major party wins 40% of the votes, it should win approximately 40% of the seats, and a minor party with 10% of the votes should also gain 10% of the legislative seats.

In Proportional Representation,

1.     The candidates do not contest the election directly like all other candidates. So, they are not elected directly by the people.

2.     Each party fields a slate of candidates (say 20 candidates as was suggested previously). The number of candidates can be more or less than 20, depending on what decision will be taken when the reform is adopted.

3.     Candidates are chosen by the Leader of each Party and are ranked in order of preference. If the party qualifies, the ones who are ranked first will be nominated first.

4.     The party list is submitted to the Electoral Office by the Leader of the Party on Nomination Day.

5.     The number of PR seats that a party will get will depend largely on the percentage of votes that the party will score on a national basis in the election and also on the type of formula that will be used.

The Threshold

All PR electoral systems have thresholds of representation: that is, the minimum level of support which a party needs to gain representation. Thresholds can be legally imposed (formal thresholds), or exist as a mathematical property of the electoral system (effective or natural thresholds).

In the mixed systems of Germany, New Zealand and Russia, for example, there is a 5% threshold in the PR section: parties which fail to secure 5% of the vote nationwide are ineligible to be awarded seats from the PR lists. In both Germany and New Zealand there exist “back-door” routes for a party to be entitled to seats from the lists; in the case of New Zealand a party must win at least one constituency seat, and in the case of Germany three seats, to by-pass the threshold requirements. In Russia in 1995 there were no “back-door” routes, and almost half of the party list votes were wasted. The legal thresholds range from 0.67% in the Netherlands to 10% in Turkey. Parties which gain less than this percentage of the vote are excluded from the count.

How PR works

To have a clearer idea of how PR functions we shall again have a look at the 2012 election of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly.

PR in Rodrigues

The Rodrigues Regional Assembly has a mixed FPTP/PR electoral model. It was introduced in 2001 as a test for its subsequent introduction in Mauritius. The ballot paper is in two parts, one part for the Regional Candidates and the other part for the designation of PR Members.

One election day, each voter has to cast 3 votes, 2 for the Regional Candidates and 1 for the party. The 2 Regional Members for a specific ward are elected on the FPTP basis. They are the people’s choice.

The votes obtained by each party island-wide are computed and the percentage obtained is used to determine the number of PR seats to be obtained by each party. 6 PR seats are at stake for the Rodrigues Regional Assembly. They are not elected by the people but chosen by the party Leaders.

Let us now see how the 6 PR members are designated after the election.

The PR formula for Rodrigues works as follows:

Step 1 – Total votes for each party are computed from island votes.

Step 2 – This total for each party is divided by number of Regional Members elected + 1.

Step 3 – Party with highest quotient is allocated the first seat.

Step 4 – Recalculation is done after the nomination of each member until all 6 seats are allocated.

The island votes obtained by each party for the election in Feb. 2012 were as follows:

OPR

MR

FPR

MIR

Total votes

10230

9 202

2 333

102

% of votes

46.78 %

42.08 %

10.67 %

0.47%

No. of elected Regional Members

8

4

0

0

Divisor to be used for the determination of PR seats

8+1= 9

4+1=5

0+1=1

0+1=1

After election, OPR had a clear majority of 4 seats.

Now, let us see how PR has influenced the result.

The threshold for the eligibility of PR is 10%. So 3 parties have qualified – OPR, MR and FPR.

FPR has an advantage. It has no elected member. So its divisor is 1. Now any number divided by 1 will give the same quotient. So it is obvious that this party will have a very high quotient and will be allocated the first seat.

OPR

MR

FPR

WINNER

No.of votes

10230

9 202

2 333

% of votes

46.78 %

42.08 %

10.67 %

1st seat

46.78/9 = 5.2

42.08/5 = 8.42

10.67/1 = 10.67

FPR

2nd seat

46.78/9 = 5.2

42.08/5 = 8.42

10.67/2 = 5.33

MR

3rd seat

46.78/9 = 5.2

42.08/6 = 7.01

10.67/2 = 5.33

MR

4th seat

46.78/9 = 5.2

42.08/7 = 6.01

10.67/2 = 5.33

MR

5th seat

46.78/9 = 5.2

42.08/8 = 5.26

10.67/2 = 5.33

FPR

6th seat

46.78/9 = 5.2

42.08/8 = 5.26

10.67/3 = 3.56

MR

The party having the lowest score and had just crossed the threshold of 10 % was able to bag 2 out of the 6 seats (33.3 %) while the other party with lesser percentage of votes got 4 of the seats ( 66.7%). The winning party received no PR seats. When the 6 seats from PR were allocated, the following results were obtained.

OPR

MR

FPR

MIR

TOTAL

No. of Regional Members

8

4

0

0

12

No. of Island Members. (PR)

0

4

2

0

6

TOTAL

8

8

2

0

18

OPR which had a clear majority of 4 seats after election was, however, confronted to a deadlock situation of no majority by PR and was even reduced to a minority against MR/FPR in the ratio of 8: 10. PR had made majority become minority

Luckily, in the Rodrigues Regional Assembly Act, there is a provision in Section 11 Paragraph ( 9 ) which stipulates that, in case a party obtaining more than 7 Regional seats finds itself with less than 10 seats when the 6 Island PR seats are allocated, it should be allocated as many seats as needed from its PR List so that it can acquire a majority of but one. So, 3 additional Island Members from PR List of OPR were also nominated. So, with PR, the ruling party, OPR in the Rodrigues Regional Assembly has 11 members and the opposition ( MR/ FPR ) has 10 members. There is only one member who is providing the precarious stability to the party in power. Election provided a comfortable margin of governance as well as political stability to the ruling party but PR has destabilized the majority from a deadlock situation to marginal stability that can be vaporized at any moment. We may face the same sort of situation for the general elections here in Mauritius if the PR system were also adopted here

(More next week)

 

* Published in print edition on 4 March 2015

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