By SDL party official Pio Tabaiwalu
(Taken from SDL's newly-launched website and its Think Tank page: see link at end of story)
Ideally, the Constitution of a country should organically evolve over time. In Fiji, the 1997 Constitution has been the supreme law for just over 10 years during which time two coups took place in 2000 and 2006. The coups were not due to defects in the Constitution as such, but to other reasons. In the normal course of events, some changes would be effected in the evolutionary process of our Constitution. One such change would be the voting system.
|NZ MMP POSTER|
The movement from communal voting to election under the principle of “one man one vote one value” has been gradual since independence in 1970. Many people believe that this has been in the best interest of a multi-racial country such as Fiji. The 1997 Constitution prescribes a total of 71 seats in the House of Representatives with 46 “communal seats” and only 25 “open” seats.
It was thought that with gradual evolution there would less and less communal seats with the eventual result of all open seats with everyone voting for one candidate of his or her choice
The principle of one man one vote one value is the ideal voting system we are all striving for.
The gradual evolution process of the constitution has been overtaken by the events of 2006. We have asked to move away from communal voting.
The proposal in the SDL submission to the Constitution Commission is for Fiji to consider a voting system similar to the New Zealand Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting as an option for Fiji in the coming general elections in 2014. The MMP system recommended by the SDL is one that combines constituency voting and party voting where the voters have two votes: one for the constituency vote and one for party.
In this instance there will be two ballot papers; one for the constituency vote which will contain the name of the candidate and one for the party vote which will contain only the party symbol. A voter will cast one vote for the constituency and one vote for the party.
In a 71 seat parliament the SDL recommends that there be 46 constituency votes and 25 party votes. In the constituency vote a candidate is successful on a “first past the post basis.” 46 candidates will be determined this way. On the other hand for the party vote; ballot papers will be counted to determine on a percentage basis the number of seats a party is entitled to from the 25 seats available for party votes. For example, if a party wins 60% of the party votes, the party will be entitled to 60% of the 25 seats which is 15 seats. So in addition to the constituency seats already won by a party it will add to this the party vote seats of 15.
So if a party wins 25 seats from the constituency votes and another 15 seats from the party votes it will have a total of 40 seats and will form government in a 71 seat parliament.
How are candidates chosen for the party votes?
For the party votes the names of the candidates will be from the party list determined by the party concerned. The list will have those who may not contest in the constituency and those contesting in a constituency. So if a party is entitled to 5 seats from the party votes it will then choose 5 candidates from the party list to take up these seats. The party list will be handed over to the Supervisor of Elections Office before elections so that the eligibility or all candidates are determined beforehand.
There are several advantages to the system.
The party votes can be effectively used to balance out representatives of the party.For instance if there are just two women successful in constituency voting then a party can increase women participation by adding three or four more women from the seats won through the party vote.
Secondly, the SDL Party won a small percentage Indo-Fijians votes in the last elections but in this system it get Indo-Fijian candidates from the party list. The same logic would apply for minority groups’candidates that the party wishes to be represented in parliament.
Thirdly, if a good candidate loses in the constituency seat he/she can still get in through the party list as he/she will also be listed there.
Fourthly, even if a party loses all the constituency seats it could still get seats through the party votes. For example if a party loses all constituency seats and yet received 20% of the party votes it would be entitled to (20% of 25 seats) which is 5 seats.
Furthermore, the system will allow parties to choose high quality candidates for the party list which would improve overall representation in parliament.
Advantage for small, minority or special interest parties.
The system would also allow small parties a chance to be represented in parliament. This would depend on the minimum percentage a party has to win to be entitled to a seat. For instance in Fiji the minimum could be 5% of the votes cast for the party vote.So if the United Peoples Party (UPP) wins 5% of the votes cast for the party vote it is entitled to one seat in parliament. The approximation of percentage with number of seats entitlement will be determined beforehand by the Supervisor of Elections Office.
One just has to look at the NZ system and ballot papers to see the array of political parties seeking representation in parliament and how small parties are playing a crucial role in political governance in that country. Furthermore, New Zealand is a multi-racial country like ours and the system is working well there in terms of fair representation from minorities and interest groups.
Disadvantage to the system
The major weakness of the system is that it can generate too many small parties with the possibility that no one party wins the majority. This then will require coalition with other parties to get the majority seats. The consequences could be coalition governments hobbled by the demands of its partner(s). We can only look at New Zealand for some lessons on this, where despite some initial hiccups coalition parties have been able to govern effectively. And parties had ironed out major differences before agreeing to the coalition.
Is it the answer for Fiji?
For Fiji this may be the answer to take us out of the communal voting system and allow parties to have balanced representation in terms of gender, youth, and ethnicity or minority interests whilst still respecting the “one man, one vote, one value” principle.
New SDL Party website