Expert suggests retaining PR system in modified form

Stabroek News
June 20, 1999

Professor Aanund Hylland, an expert in electoral systems and systems of government, has suggested to the Constitutional Reform Commission that the present electoral system be retained, even if in a modified form.

Speaking with members of the commission at a plenary session on Friday at Park Hotel, Prof Hylland suggested that they consider having the political parties list their candidates in order of priority. Listing them alphabetically, as is the present practice, does not allow voters to know for whom they are voting, he observed.

Explaining the reason for the retention of the system of Proportional Representation (PR), Prof Hylland said that it allows for different voices to be heard, which is good for government, particularly in a situation where there is a certain level of instability.

Contrasting PR with the First Past the Post System (FPTP), he said that while FPTP makes possible strong and effective government, it does not really work as well outside the United Kingdom, citing the political instability it has created in India where regional interest takes priority over national interest.

In support of the priority listing of candidates, Prof Hylland said that besides addressing the issue of allowing voters to know for whom they are voting, if representation by gender and region is taken into account in drawing up the list, it would also address the issue of balance. He said that while it might be inconvenient to the parties to have their lists in priority order, the commission should bear in mind that its task is to create a system which promotes the interests of the voter and in which all other interests, including those of the political parties are subordinated.

He also suggested that the joint system as provided for at Article 160(2) of the Constitution was a reasonable compromise which could be used to obtain the representativeness of the FPTP system and the proportionality of the PR system. Article 160(2) provides for up to half of the 53 seats of the National Assembly to be contested by the FPTP system with the imbalance, if any, being corrected on the basis of the results of the elections for the other seats which would be conducted according to the PR system. Prof Hylland explained that the choice to be made was between that of a power-sharing agreement between a strong presidency and a parliament and a system in which executive power resided in the majority in parliament.

He further explained that if, in the system of government chosen, executive power resides in the presidency, then the holder of that post should be directly elected, and not indirectly as now provided for in the constitution. Direct elections, he said, would give the holder of the presidency a mandate, even if that mandate conflicts with that of the Parliament. Where executive power is located in the majority in the parliament then the holder of the presidency should be elected indirectly. He pointed out that having a ceremonial head of state being elected directly could lead to unnecessary conflict arising from the mandate that could be claimed from direct elections.

Dealing with the composition of the Elections Commission, Professor Hylland suggested that it be a permanent body with a core of competent professionals. He explained that a permanent body would allow for a build-up of professional expertise.

Prof Hylland, however, stressed that while it was important to have constitutional arrangements which would contribute to good governance, in the final analysis it would be the attitude of the people which would determine whether or not there is a functioning democracy.

He explained that "not even an ideal system can lead to good governance if the will is not there among the people involved.

"The really important thing when it comes to the question of whether democracy functions, is the attitude and behaviour of the people--those in power and their large number of voters."

But he stressed that it would be wrong to conclude that constitutional arrangements did not matter, pointing out that they could either prevent or influence the development of a good system of government.

Answering questions from the commissioners and two of the commission's three local legal experts about the ease with which the electoral system could be changed, Professor Hylland said that some "inertia" in the system was highly desirable.

Also, he said that while the PR system was important for regional elections, it should not be employed at the lower levels of the local government system i.e in village council elections.

Prof Hylland, a Norwegian, is in Guyana through the courtesy of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) at the invitation of the Constitutional Reform Commission. He is the latest of a series of experts who have visited Guyana this month through the assistance of the NDI, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations Development Programme.

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples