Kaieteur News – Last year’s election debacle has cast a spotlight on Guyana’s dysfunctional parliamentary and electoral systems. Now that the vitriol surrounding Charrandass Persaud’s assenting vote has waned (though not entirely subsided) Guyanese felt able to suggest alternatives for the electoral system without fear of rebuke.
Commentators have noted that parliamentarians are not accountable to their constituents but instead pay homage at the altars of their parties. As suggested in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “When I was a lad” many a successful Guyanese politician “… always voted at his party’s call and never thought of thinking for himself at all.”
One idea which seems to be in vogue is a switch to a direct constituency representation, used in the United States and United Kingdom. This is, of course, a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire – these countries are famous internationally for their dysfunctional, unrepresentative legislatures.
In the United Kingdom’s 2019 parliamentary elections, for example, the Liberal Democrats secured 11.6 percent of the votes but gained a mere 1.6 percent of the seats. In the United States, each state sends two senators to Congress, meaning that Wyoming with a population of around 573,000 has as much representation in the Upper House as California with a population of 39.3 million. Furthermore the system is open to boundary gerrymandering.
More palatable has been the call for a mixed-member system of direct apportioned seats. Under this system, the country is divided in a number of constituencies and a voter casts two votes: one for his or her constituency representative and the other the political party of his or her choice. Whoever wins the constituency seats fills those positions in the parliament while the other seats are apportioned in relation to the percentage of votes each national or regional candidate obtains. Indeed, this is the way some Guyanese believe our Parliament is constituted due to the confusingly named regional and top-up lists.
All candidates for election to parliament must be part of a party’s list. Not much traction is given to the criticism that the system as presently stands limit Independent candidates from running for election to the National Assembly.
Also not much talked about is the idea of scrapping the closed-list and allowing post-elections coalitions, though given the events of the past year, some psychic dread of coalitions or weakening the power of one’s party, is understandable.
Under the closed-list system, voters vote for the political parties of their choice, based on a list which the parties present. There is no hierarchical ranking of members so that the voters would be assured that if, for example, 10 seats are won by a party, that the top 10 listed persons would be selected for parliament.
As the Carter Centre pointed out in its Observer Mission Report for the 2015 Elections which was won by the APNU+AFC, after seats are allocated, the political parties are free to determine which of their candidates will be granted a seat. The people vote in the elections but subrogate the choice of their candidate to the political party.
The voter therefore has no guarantee that someone whom they feel should represent them will do so. The only certainty is who will become President should their party win.
Consequently, as the Carter Centre Report observes “the choice of the voter is largely limited to the selection of the political party.”
All of these proposals – direct constituency, mixed-members system and a close- list system – miss the dart board entirely. Reform for reform sake is no panacea.
The fundamental defect in Guyanese politics is the fact that this is a country of two nations, both professing mutual love for each other. However, whichever political party is elected, the supporters of the other party feel alienated. Thus, so long as ethnic tribalism forms the basis for political organisation, the ballot box will remain an empty tabernacle offering no salvation.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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