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In praise of proportional representation

In praise of proportional representation

By Sridhar Ekambaram

Now that we are in the midst of trying to decide if we need MMP or not, it is time we put the issues in front of us in perspective and look at alternatives. For the uninitiated, MMP or Mixed Member Proportional system allows voters to make two choices – one for the local candidate as a representative and the other on the party. This was done to provide a more meaningful representation of voters’ choice to include smaller parties as well.

Few issues have come up with this system. For a country with only 70 parliamentary constituencies, there are at least 120 representatives in our parliament, a 70% over representation with multiple representatives for several constituencies.

The alternatives considered in the recent referendum were the traditional First Past the Post, Preferential voting, Single Transferable vote and Supplementary Member system. However, one system, proportional representation has been in existence as a theory but mostly unused

Proportional representation, by definition, gives successful parties number of seats in the parliament in direct proportion to the number of votes they accrue at an election . It works similar to our current MMP system except that there are no electorate representatives, only list members. This system achieves the same results as MMP, i.e. gives smaller parties due representation in parliament. There are several benefits of this system of election.

In the current system, as mentioned earlier, there is over-representation of New Zealanders in the parliament. Elected representatives’ personal policies anyway don’t make any difference in the parliament because voting on legislation is seldom based on individual members and it is always party votes that matter. This leads to the elected representative failing to represent his/her electors who voted on the member’s individual views and policies. Secondly, in the current scenario, members who get elected from a particular constituency seldom reside in the constituency they represent. Third, elected representatives are often voted based on their individual personality, even if they do not have enough influence in the party.

With proportional representation, voting is based on a party’s policies whereas Individual members’ views are irrelevant. Voters need to consider only one aspect, which party best represents his/her needs and is most likely to deliver accordingly, doesn’t matter if the party members are totally worthless, because at the end of the day it is a party’s decisions that prevail in the parliament. If the party feels a particular member is not being good enough, the member can easily be replaced with the next on the list without having to go through costly by-election. There is no issue of overrepresentation since there are no multiple representatives. Normal residence of the member is irrelevant because the member does not represent any constituency anymore, but in essence only the party and the country. They can continue to be in touch with the voters. Since they are not tied to any constituency they can instead represent the entire nation. The total number of seats in the parliament can be scaled back to a manageable level of say 50 or 70 and still giving representation of all eligible parties. Finally, it will prevent individual members from hijacking the party threatening to walk away with their loyal voters.

Some people may still prefer to have some kind of representatives. Elected local city/district councillors good are representing the people and can easily fill that gap, since their job description is similar to members of parliament, with reduced powers. The local councillors can take care of local issues as they are currently doing and the parliament can still take care of issues at a national level.

As a small country New Zealand is a perfect place to try out this system. The members who represent the party will still be able to keep in touch with people to get their views on issues, that gets difficult in a big country with a larger population, since the time required to meet everyone is insufficient.

We can continue to maintain the current 5% threshold levels of voting as minimum necessary to secure seats in the parliament.
ends

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