Task force to study options on electoral system reform

Stabroek News
March 14, 2000

Electoral systems expert, Professor Andrew Reynolds yesterday gave the Oversight Committee (OSC) on constitutional reform three options on an electoral system which combines the element of proportionality and includes substantive elements of geographical representativeness and gender diversity.

Briefing the committee on the options, he said that "such electoral systems do exist and, I believe, can be crafted to suit the requirements of Guyana."

The options will be considered by the Task Force with responsibility for the drafting briefs on the electoral system and its recommendations considered by the OSC, which would then ask Prof Reynolds to refine the option chosen. Prof Reynolds, an associate professor at Notre Dame University in the United States of America was recruited by the OSC.

Prof Reynolds in said that suggesting the options he took account his mandate which required that the system to be designed would have to be easy to implement and not overburden a new Elections Commission with having to mount a substantial voter education programme.

He suggested the retention of the present system as an option, but described it as "neither perfectly proportional nor geographically representative."

His second option was retaining the present system, with two modifications--where the "53 directly elected representatives [are] drawn from party lists in regional constituencies based on the existing ten administrative regions of Guyana;" and/or the splitting of Region Four into "two or three multi-member proportional representation [PR] constituencies." However, he said that his suggestion of splitting Region Four into constituencies, while attractive might not be possible for the January 2001 elections and may only be feasible as part of a "stage two" of electoral system reforms which might take place after the elections.

With this system, he said, the seat allocation of the regions would be based on the number of listed electors. Every region would be guaranteed at least two or three seats.

The distribution of 53 directly elected seats using the electoral used at the last election for the various regions would be Regions One, Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten--two or three seats each, if either number was the minimum guaranteed seat per region. Regions Two and Five would each have three seats whether the minimum guaranteed number of seats was two or three; Region Three would have seven seats if the minimum seats were two and six if the minimum was three. Region Six would have eight seats if the guaranteed minimum was two seats and seven if that number was raised to three. Region Four, which has the largest number of electors, would be allocated 22 seats if the guaranteed number was two and 19, if the number was raised to three.

He said that under the present system, the 12 "indirectly elected seats pose the potential of anomalies between a party's vote and share of seats." This would be dealt with by allocating them in such a way as to ensure the overall proportionality of the system. "These are in effect 'top up' seats which would correct any disproportionality arising out of the regional seat allocations [which would be the result of the numerical over-representation of the smaller regions of the country]."

Among the advantages of the system, he said, was that it would tighten accountability between the parliamentarians and their constituencies as constituents would be able to more clearly identify their MPs. Another was that guaranteeing a minimum number of seats to the interior regions would "ensure a diversity of party representation within those regions and that those geographical large areas had an adequate voice in the national parliament." The third advantage, he said, was the 12 national 'top up' seats would ensure that the PR requirement of the system, enabling small parties to gain representation if they missed out on the regional level and guaranteeing the larger parties, ultimately, a fair share of the overall parliament.

If implemented at the January elections this system could be the first step towards a Mixed Member Proportional System (MMP), which combines both single-member constituencies, where the election would be by First Past the Post (FPTP), and the PR list system. This is his third option.

The second option would require no restructuring of the current electoral administration system aprat from that deemed necessary regardless of the system used. The method of vote and construction of the ballot paper could remain the same, with votes still being counted at the place of poll.

However, he said, one disadvantage was that a degree of party and voter education would be required before introducing this system and that Region Four would remain still too large to facilitate a substantive geographical connection between voters and their Mps.

The MMP system, which is actually provided for by Article 160 of the present Constitution, Prof Reynolds said, could not be implemented in time for a January election as it would require the drawing up 40 single-member constituencies to be elected by the FPTP system, if the spilt was 40 members elected by that system and 25 by the PR system.

Prof Reynolds explained that under this system, voters would have two votes--one cast for the candidate of their choice in the single-member constituencies, the other for the party of their choice in the PR constituencies. He said that this system would have the advantages of heightening accountability as voters would be able to identify with a particular member of parliament; constituencies would range in size from about 2,500 - 13,000; overall parliamentary proportionality would be ensured by the PR 'top up' seats; if a two-vote system was used, voters would be able to support the candidate of one party in the constituency race and a different party at the national level. The disadvantages, he said, were that voter education would be required as the new system would be significantly different from the present one and the difference between and impact of the constituency vote and PR vote is not always clear to the voter; the FTTP constituencies might still be too geographically large and MPs elected in different ways would have different incentives and responsibilities placed on them.