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PM’s election plan no real change

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The proposal by the Prime Minister (the PM) to have Parliament change the way MPs are elected by having “a runoff poll,” if approved, will have the effect of consolidating the tyranny of the majority in a country of minorities. 

The argument for the change, as I understand it, is that a mechanism needs to be put in place to prevent the continuation of our voting history of having candidates being elected to Parliament with less than 50 per cent of the votes cast in a constituency. The PM argues that having a runoff vote between the two top polling candidates—if no one candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the votes—is that the second poll will have the effect of placing greater emphasis on the quality of the candidates selected, as the question in the runoff will be “which of these two candidates will better serve me and my constituency?” And the effect will be that each member of the House of Representatives will only become such a member if he “obtains more than 50 per cent of the votes cast in a constituency.”

A noble and admirable objective—if this is indeed the desirable objective. But, should the minority of voters in an election—even if that minority is 49+ per cent but less than 50 per cent—be effectively disenfranchised and have no voice in Parliament? I think not, because this is what leads to and consolidates ethnic-based voting and the allocation of state-owned resources on the basis of ethno-political considerations when the Opposition becomes the Government.

This is what we have now and this is what the PM proposes to consolidate. And this is what we will have as the political wheel turns and turns in the years to come!

We don’t need this system. It is dysfunctional, inequitable and demonstrably discriminatory, historically, on many grounds all over the country, whichever of the two major parties is in power—PNM or UNC. What we need is a system that will allow for representation of significant minorities from the electorate in the Government—along with the majority! This will be real democracy, not a democracy characterised by the tyranny of the majority! Arrangements must be made for the votes and voices of the minority to be heard.

In order to implement this change, Madam PM as a first step, in every constituency there should be two seats. One of those seats would go to the candidate receiving more than 50 per cent of the votes cast, as you propose, and the other seat would go to the candidate receiving the next highest number of votes. 

Under this system, when I and the many thousands like me vote, we would be certain that our votes will in fact be represented in Parliament—whether in the Government or Opposition. Our votes will really matter and our voices will be heard through our elected representatives in every constituency—majority or minority. We will have less of an inclination to vote NOTA (none of the above).

This change in providing representation for the minority views, not “runoff polls,” is what is necessary now since it has been abundantly clear for some time, that the Westminster system of Government and Opposition, in the light of our history and current circumstances, is entirely unsuited to our special multi-ethnic and multicultural circumstances. All the Westminster system does is entrench non-productive “Opposition” politics and leads to an unseemly scramble for political spoils to “re-balance” the scales whenever governments exchange. 

Time for real change!


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