Sunday, August 25, 2013

Guest commentary: Three-Way split - by Dr. Hamid Ghany

JYOTI is slowly getting back on line. Today we are publishing two columns: the political one, THEEE WAY SPLIT, below, by Dr Hamid Ghany and the regular Peter O'Connor's column, which follows in a separate post.

THREE WAY SPLIT - by Dr Hamid Ghany

Now that the politics of the country has once again moved to a three-way split, one can recall the general elections of 1981, 1991, 1995 and 2007 in which the prime beneficiary on three occasions was the PNM. The 1981 general election featured the PNM, the ULF and the DAC as the parties that actually won seats, however, there was the ONR that finished second in the overall vote count and it won no seats.

The breakdown in that general election was that the PNM won 26 of 36 seats with 52.9% of the vote, the ONR won no seats with 22.2% of the vote, the ULF won 8 of the 36 seats with 15.2% of the vote, and the DAC won 2 of the 36 seats with 3.7% of the vote.

The outcome of this election reopened a public debate about the need for some kind of proportional representation because of the fact that the wishes of the second largest group of voters were not rewarded by the first past-the-post system. That is a debate that has continued to the present day in one form or another.

In 1974, the Wooding Constitution Commission had proposed a mixed system of proportional representation and the first past-the-post system for elections to the national Parliament.

The next time that there was a disproportionate outcome in terms of votes cast and seats won occurred in the 1991 general election when there was another three-way electoral contest. The PNM won 21 of 36 seats with 45.1% of the vote, the UNC won 13 of 36 seats with 29.2% of the vote, and the NAR won 2 of 36 seats with 24.6% of the vote.

This electoral result provided Trinidad and Tobago with its first manufactured majority whereby the party winning a majority of seats did so with a minority of votes. The debate over proportional representation continued.

In the 2007 general election, the PNM won 26 of 41 seats with 45.85% of the vote, the UNC won 15 of 41 seats with 29.73% of the vote, and the COP won no seats with 22.64% of the vote. Once more the argument for proportional representation was reopened as well as the need for an accommodation among parties opposed to the PNM.

Two of these three electoral contests have demonstrated quite clearly that the first past-the-post system can produce manufactured results whereby a party can win a majority of seats with a minority of votes. In these three elections the PNM emerged victorious as the system worked in their favour with a three-way split.

That is not to say that the PNM has not suffered adversely when there has been a three-way split without a pre-advertised accommodation before the general election. In the 1995 general election, the PNM was the victim of the first past-the-post system when they increased their popularity from the 1991 general election and yet lost seats in the process.

In 1995, the PNM increased their vote from 45.1% in 1991 to 48.8% which was captured by opinion polls, but the party lost four seats from 21 of 36 in 1991 to 17 of 36 by 1995. The UNC also increased its share of the vote from 29.2% to 45.8% and in the process increased its share of the seats from 13 of 36 to 17 of 36. The NAR had its vote share reduced from 24.6% to 4.8% by contesting 19 of 36 seats and they retained the same two seats that they won in Tobago in 1991.

The PNM tasted defeat while their share of the vote had increased. The UNC and the NAR formed a coalition after the general election and this permitted them to form the government in a situation where no single party had an overall majority.

Our electoral system has produced distortions whenever there have been three-way splits and the wishes of the electorate have never been properly rewarded because of the potential of the first past-the-post system to produce disproportionate results in such circumstances.

The country has once again moved into a three-way split notwithstanding the composition of the People’s Partnership which would be expected to allocate coalition partners to fight certain seats as they did in 2010 as opposed to fighting each other.

The formation of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) has created a new mathematical equation to be worked out. As the country prepares for the local government elections, will the issue of proportional representation as opposed to coalition or accommodation arise again?

The historical facts have already spoken for themselves. The only party that has adopted a consistent position of opposition to the introduction of any proportional representation in Trinidad and Tobago is the PNM. 

This opposition was first recorded by Eric Williams in an eight-hour address to the House of Representatives in December 1974 when he laid the Wooding Constitution Commission Report in that House.

Other political parties have called for this reform as a means of permitting the votes of the electorate to be more accurately recorded and eliminate voter fear about wasting votes in certain constituencies.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai