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Runoff voting ‘fairer system’

By Andre Bagoo Saturday, August 9 2014

THE CONSTITUTION Reform Commission (CRC), in an addendum to its December 2013 report submitted to the Office of the Prime Minister, called for the adoption of a 50 percent/runoff procedure stating it would be “a fairer system”, notwithstanding the risk of delays.

In a nine-page addendum, dated July 18, the Commission made comment on matters which it said, “required further commentary.”

“After due consideration of the feedback received, the Commission met and considered issues that were raised and arrived at a consensus on a suite of recommendations that the Commission felt required further commentary,” the Commission said, according to a document released by the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday. The Commission’s addendum had not been previously disclosed to the public.

In relation to the run-off procedure, the Commission said in the document that it was “welcomed”.

“The Commission stands by its recommendation for the retention of the first past-the-post system for the House of Representatives; however, any opportunity to make the first past-the-post system for election to the House of Representatives a fairer one will be welcomed by the Commission,” the Commission states in an addendum. The Commission argued that the proposal is consistent with proportional representation, though one member, Dr Merle Hodge, has since publicly expressed the view that the two do not mesh.

“The proposal for the refinement of the first past-the-post system is designed to ensure that all MPs are elected on a majority basis,” the Commission stated. “This is consistent with the proposals advanced by the Commission for proportional representation for the Senate.”

The Commission further stated, “Given the emergence of a political culture that is seeking representation on the basis of majority or proportionality, any shift in the political culture of voting and elections ought to consider either majority or proportionality as philosophies to be embraced. Plurality (or minority) outcomes in constituencies ought not to be preferred over majority outcomes where representation of the people is concerned.”

Of the 50 percent threshold, the Commission stated, “This process of fairer representation will provide a superior democratic foundation for election to the House of Representatives and general effect can be given to this by the use of a runoff system of elections in those constituencies where no candidate has been elected by a margin greater than 50 percent of the votes cast for all candidates in such constituencies.”

On the possible delay in appointing a Prime Minister, the Commission stated this would only result when the outcome of the election is close, that is when no party has a clear victory.

“The issue of the length of time that would be required for the President to appoint a Prime Minister may or may not be affected by the outcome of any runoff elections depending on whether one party has already won the number of seats required for the President to make an appointment under the current system,” the Commission stated. “If the leader of a party that has a majority is himself or herself involved in a runoff election, the President can await the outcome of the runoff election before making a decision.”

The Commission stated the late President Arthur NR Robinson delayed his decision to appoint a Prime Minister in December 2000 and in December 2001 in order to await the delivery of official results to him (in December 2000) or to await the decision of contending parties to a negotiation (The Crowne Plaza Accord in December 2001). The elapsed time for the respective delays ranged from nine days to two weeks.

“In the circumstances, the issue of a delay in making appointments to the office of Prime Minister ought not to present any problems in respect of the political culture of the country if the runoff system is adopted for elections to the House of Representatives, because the country has successfully navigated these situations before during the presidency of the late Arthur NR Robinson,” the Commission stated.

The Commission also stated a 50 percent run-off system would be even more appropriate given the proposed right of recall, triggered by a vote of two-thirds.

“Seeing that the Constitution makes provision for the first past-the-post system as the system of election, then it is only proper that a refinement of the first past-the-post system be undertaken to ensure the election of all MPs on a majority basis,” the Commission stated.

The Commission’s final recommendation read, “The Commission recommends a fairer system of election under the first past-the-post system and the runoff election as articulated above will address that issue in respect of the retention of the first past-the-post system for the House of Representatives independent of any other reforms that may be linked to it.”

Up to yesterday afternoon, the Commission had not placed its addendum on its website.

See pages 11, 16

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