Proposed electoral system can be designed--Prof Reynolds

Stabroek News
March 14, 2000

Professor Andrew Reynolds will present the options he thinks are available to the Oversight Committee (OSC) in designing an electoral system in accordance with the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC).

Prof Reynolds, an associate professor at Notre Dame University in the United States of America was recruited by the OSC. His terms of reference call for him to advise on whether an electoral system could be designed which would address the needs of a recommendation by the CRC. He will also offer advice as to the possibility for such a system to be in place for elections by January 17, 2001.

The CRC has recommended a new electoral system which would retain the characteristics of proportional representation while at the same time providing for geographic and gender representativeness.

Speaking with Stabroek News on Sunday, Prof Reynolds said it could be done in a number of ways and he would be presenting those to the OSC for its consideration.

Stressing that what is put in place has to be a decision of the committee, he said that when it decided on the option it would like to purse, he would then be in a position to advise on the design of a system to achieve the desired objective.

Prof Reynolds said he believed that an electoral system could be crafted with the characteristics recommended by the CRC to be used at an elections in January. But he said that it had to be understood that what was put in place for those elections had to be regarded as a first step in a process which would be continued after the elections.

He cited for example that new electoral boundaries could not be put in place for a January elections and that this would be one aspect of a new system which would have to be undertaken after the elections.

Asked about the contribution an electoral system could make to solving the question of racial divisiveness, Prof Reynolds explained that it should not be seen as a panacea but as part of the larger jig-saw puzzle. It could not provide a cure, but he said it could provide an incentive for political parties to behave in a certain way--to broaden their appeal beyond their own supporters.

Prof Reynolds said that this was the concern addressed by the electoral systems used in Fiji, Northern Ireland and South Africa.

He explained that the system would have the twin objectives of facilitating accommodation between the various groups in a society and preventing a deterioration in the relations between these groups.

He cited the case of Angola where the winner-take-all system aggravated the tensions in the society resulting in some 100,000 people being killed because nothing was done to encourage inclusiveness.

On the other hand, he said that in Northern Ireland everything was being done to encourage all the groups there that they have a stake in the society. Despite the reintroduction of direct rule from Westminster (the British Parliament), Prof Reynolds asserted that the reality was that the war had ceased and there was more optimism now than at any time in the past 30 years that a settlement was possible.

Asked about the electoral system being designed to facilitate a greater participation of women in government, Prof Reynolds noted that there was a whole range of possibilities but stressed that what was important would be affirmative action for gender issues in a number of other areas. He said that the electoral system was just part of the jig-saw, explaining that electoral rules could influence the possibilities of more women being elected, but there was a number of barriers which could inhibit their effectiveness. Some of these barriers were due to the culture of the society, others to the way political parties are structured and yet others to the way women are viewed in the political process.

He opined that it was harder for women to acquire the skills required for their involvement in politics than it was for them to be involved in profession such as medicine, law, and teaching.

Prof Reynolds said that it was desirable to have a system that made possible the availability of the wide range of talents women have but it was necessary that the space should be provided so that they could be elected based on their own merit.

He explained that Guyana, where the electoral system was not as unfriendly in comparison with other countries, was not alone in the move to have a system where women could be better represented in government. He said that in about 50 of the 180 nation states in the world including countries in Europe, Africa and South America, something was being done either formally or informally to facilitate the greater involvement of women in government. These, he said, ranged from tokenism, to providing for women to be elected on real merit.

Asked if an electoral system could be designed to address the specific needs of a country, Prof Reynolds observed that designing election systems was not a science but an art. He described the electoral system as "a piece of clothing that fits a country". He said that he would not think of advising on an electoral system for Guyana without first speaking to people here and immersing himself in the country's political culture. He said that the same electoral system would work differently in another country than it would work here, even though it would have been made from the same cloth as that used in Guyana.

Prof Reynolds arrived here on Wednesday and has been meeting members of the OSC and the members of the task force which is working on preparing the drafting brief for the recommendations on the electoral system.

Before his presentation to the OSC, Prof Reynolds participated in the round-table discussions at the Kingston offices of the European Delegation to Guyana, being hosted by the EU-funded Needs Assessment Mission.

Prof Reynolds who teaches at Notre Dame University in the United States has been a programme and research officer with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm, Sweden between 1996-7. He had responsibility for programmes relating to electoral system design, voter turnout, conflict management, issues of democratic consolidation, gender and democracy and the meanings and values of democracy. In 1992 he worked with Charter 88 as a general election organiser on the Constitutional Reform Campaign in London, United Kingdom. In 1990, he worked as a media officer for the Boston Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.