Do We Need Electoral Reforms?

Details Created On Wednesday, 26 March 2014 08:11 Published DateWritten By Al Jafree Md Yusop Category: Exclusive

Political journalist Richard Shenkman in his bestselling book Presidential Ambition stated it is the system that is mainly to blame for all the dreadful compromises (U.S.) presidents make. In the case of our very own 13th General Election last year the opposition and its supporters are screaming electoral fraud while the Barisan Nasional government is claiming a free and fair election. In this situation was it the individual or our electoral system is at fault?

Yesterday the People’s Tribunal on GE13 delivered their findings on the investigation of the conduct of GE13. The Tribunal raised the issue of considering a different system; a system that will ensure votes for a party translates into seats. According to the Tribunal the system must also ensure that no-one can win a seat when the majority of voters are positively against that person.

Interestingly, right after the election, Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak proposed electoral reforms; the main agenda is to transfer the responsibility of the PM's office to oversee the Election Commission to a bipartisan parliamentary committee. The big question is if the GE13 was a free and fair election as claimed by Barisan Nasional, why the need for a major reform? Najib seems to think that it’s the system that is at fault.

So what constitute a good electoral system?

Is there an example of a country that practices a good and effective electoral system? According to former US President Jimmy Carter, Venezuela’s electoral system is the best in the world. Carter declared that among the 92 elections the Carter Centre Foundation have monitored, Venezuela’s election process is the most effective.

Venezuela has developed a fully automated touch-screen voting system, which now uses thumbprint recognition technology and prints off a receipt to confirm voters’ choices. It is one of the most technologically advanced verifiable voting systems in the world, designed to protect voters from fraud and tampering and ensure the accuracy of the vote count. Accuracy and integrity are guaranteed from the minute voters walk into the polls to the point where a final tally is revealed. At the end of Election Day, each voting machine computes and prints an official tally, called a precinct count. It transmits an electronic copy of the precinct count to the servers in the National Electoral Council’s central facility, where overall totals are computed.

By mutual agreement between the contenders, 52.98% of the ballot boxes are chosen at random, opened, and their tallies compared with the corresponding precinct counts. This audit step ensures that no vote manipulation has occurred at the polling place. This leaves little room for questioning.

Carter then disclosed his opinion that the US has one of the worst election processes in the world, and it’s almost entirely because of the excessive influx of money. This sounds extremely familiar.

Among the major criticism towards the first-pass-the-post system that we are using is individuals can be elected and parties can achieve a governing majority of parliamentary seats even though they have not received a majority of the votes. In fact, most Members of Parliament are elected with less than 50% of the total votes cast in their constituency which is reflected in GE13.

Another criticism is that first-past-the-post results in a large number of wasted votes. Since the winner in most parliamentary elections gets only a plurality of votes (and not a majority), the majority of votes cast are wasted, in that a vote for a candidate placing a close second or third gives the voter no voice at all in Parliament.

First-past-the-post also works to the advantage of political parties whose support is concentrated in certain areas but may be weaker in other parts of the country. Such a party may win more seats than a party whose nationwide support is spread more uniformly -- so the number of seats that an election allocates to each party is not commensurate with the overall level of support the party has on a nationwide basis.

Most countries or regions (including most European nations) that switch from first-past-the-post to Proportional Representation do so in an attempt to address what some see as unfairness or inequity in the first-past-the-post system. Now the question will be which electoral system is of your preference?

Listed below are types of electoral system being practiced all over the world:

First-pass-the-post: This is the simplest form of majority electoral system. The winning candidate is the one who gains more votes than any other candidate, even if this is not an absolute majority of valid votes. This was reflected in GE13 when Pakatan Rakyat who won the majority vote did not win the election. Other than Malaysia, countries that are practicing this system include USA, United Kingdom, Canada, India, Bangladesh, Gambia and Ghana.

Block Vote: A plurality/majority system used in multi-member districts. Electors have as many votes as there are candidates to be elected. The candidates with the highest vote totals win the seats. Usually voters vote for candidates rather than parties and in most systems may use as many, or as few, of their votes as they wish. Countries using – Kuwait, Lebanon, Maldives, Syria.

Alternative Vote: A preferential plurality/majority system used in single-member districts. Voters use numbers to mark their preferences on the ballot paper. A candidate who receives an absolute majority (50 per cent plus 1) of valid first preference votes is declared elected. If no candidate achieves an absolute majority of first preferences, the least successful candidates are eliminated and their votes reallocated according to their second preferences until one candidate has an absolute majority. Voters vote for candidates rather than political parties. Countries using – Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Two-Round System: A plurality/majority system in which a second election is held if no candidate or party achieves a given level of votes, most commonly an absolute majority (50 per cent plus one), in the first election round. A Two-Round System may take a majority-plurality form–more than two candidates contest the second round and the one wins the highest number of votes in the second round is elected, regardless of whether they have won an absolute majority–or a majority run-off form–only the top two candidates in the first round contest the second round. Countries using – Bahrain, Cuba, France, Haiti and Vietnam.

List Proportional Representation: Under a List Proportional Representation (List PR) system each party or grouping presents a list of candidates for a multi-member electoral district, the voters vote for a party, and parties receive seats in proportion to their overall share of the vote. In some (closed list) systems the winning candidates are taken from the lists in order of their position on the lists. If the lists are ‘open’ or ‘free’ the voters can influence the order of the candidates by marking individual preferences. Countries using – Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Sweden and Turkey.

Single Transferable Vote: A preferential system in which the voter has one vote in a multi-member district and the candidates that surpass a specified quota of first preference votes are immediately elected. In successive counts, votes are redistributed from least successful candidates, who are eliminated, and votes surplus to the quota are redistributed from successful candidates, until sufficient candidates are declared elected. Voters normally vote for candidates rather than political parties, although a party-list option is possible. Countries using – Ireland and Malta.

Mixed Member Proportional System: Mixed Member Proportional is a mixed system in which the choices expressed by the voters are used to elect representatives through two different systems–one List PR system and (usually) one plurality/majority system–where the List PR system compensates for the disproportionality in the results from the plurality/majority system. Countries using – Germany, Hungary, New Zealand, Venezuela and Mexico.

Parallel System: A mixed system in which the choices expressed by the voters are used to elect representatives through two different systems–one List PR system and (usually) one plurality/majority system–but where no account is taken of the seats allocated under the first system in calculating the results in the second system. Countries using – Egypt, Japan, South Korea, Monaco, Pakistan, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan and Thailand.

- Rakyat Times