Testing the thesis . . . Fraudulent elections (continued)
The consequence of this monstrous system after the 2010 elections was the axiomatic proposition that the ‘Labor’ Party cannot win anything close to a majority without the Greens ‘preferences’ and the Greens cannot win any seats without the ‘Liberals’ ‘preferring’ them in odium of ‘Labor’! It made for a wobbly collaboration in an unsavoury alliance: the Greens and ‘Labor’ were deadly enemies compelled to work together. A minority government was possible because of the support of the one Green and three of the Independents.
Proportional representation is meant to yield ‘proportional’ election results, whereby parties should win parliamentary seats roughly in proportion to the size of their vote. Ideally, 50 per cent of the votes should win about 50 per cent of the seats. Proportional representation is the clearest way of realising the basic tenet that the proportion of representatives who hold a particular view should be roughly the same as the proportion of the people who hold that view. While some systems which pursue this goal (such as closed party list) can address other proportionality issues (gender, religion, ethnicity), and these advantages are often used to promote such variants, it is not a feature of proportional representation as such to ensure an even split of men vs. women, ethnic or religious representation which resembles the population, or any other goal.
As it is used in practice in politics, the only proportionality being respected is a close match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates obtain in elections in representative democracy, and the percentage of seats they receive – e.g., in legislative assemblies. Thus a more exact term is party-proportional representation, sometimes used by those who wish to highlight systems which emphasise party choice less, candidate or gender choice more, or who wish not to promote systems (such as closed party-list mixed-member proportional) which overly empower the parties, at the expense of voter choice of exactly which individuals go to the legislature as representatives. In contrast those who subordinate gender, ethnic, religious, regional or candidate choice to party choice – usually party members themselves – often use the term full representation.
Proportional systems almost always use political parties as the measure of representation – thus in practice these systems are party-proportional. For example, a party which receives 15 per cent of the votes under such a system receives 15 per cent the seats for its candidates. Different methods of achieving proportional representation achieve either greater proportionality or a more determinate outcome.
Party-list proportional representation is one approach, in which groupings correspond directly with candidate lists from political parties. The open list form allows the voter to influence the election of individual candidates within a party list. The closed list approach does not. Another variation is the single transferable vote, which does not depend on political parties – and where the ‘measure of grouping’ is entirely left up to the voters. Elections for the Australian Senate use what is referred to as above-the-line voting where candidates for each party are grouped on the ballot, allowing the voter to vote for the group or for a candidate.
The parties each list their candidates according to that party’s determination of priorities. In closed list systems, voters vote for a list, not a candidate. Each party is allocated seats in proportion to the number of votes it receives, using the party-determined ranking order. In an open list, voters may vote, depending on the model, for one person, or for two, or indicate their order of preference within the list.
This system is used in many countries, including Finland – with an open list, Sweden – with an open list, Israel – where the whole country is one closed list constituency, Brazil – with an open list, the Netherlands – with an open list, South Africa – with a closed list, and for elections to the European Parliament in most European Union countries – mostly with an open list.
A mixed election system – such as is presently used in New Zealand – combines a proportional system and a single seat district system, attempting to achieve some of the positive features of each. Mixed systems are often helpful in countries with large populations, since they balance local and national concerns. They are used in nations with diverse geographic, social, cultural and economic issues. Such systems, or variations of them, are also used in Bolivia, Germany, Mexico, and for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
It may be instructive to compare the electoral results in two different countries which are regarded as democratically governed: Finland, which has proportional representation on a party list, and New Zealand, which has a mixed member proportional representation system.
After the Finnish parliamentary election of 19 April 2015 the 200 seats were divided among the nine successful parties as follows:
Centre Party, with 626,218 votes and 21.10 per cent obtained 49 seats.
Finns Party, with 524,054 votes and 17.65 per cent obtained 38 seats.
National Coalition Party, with 540,212 votes and 18.20 per cent obtained 37 seats.
Social Democratic Party, with 490,102 votes and 16.51 per cent obtained 34.
Green League, with 253,102 votes and 8.53 per cent obtained 15 seats.
Left Alliance, with 211,702 votes and 7.13 per cent obtained 12 seats.
Swedish People’s Party of Finland, with 144,802 votes and 4.88 per cent obtained 9 seats.
Christian Democrats, with 105,134 and 3.54 per cent obtained 5 seats.
The Åland representative, with 10,910 votes and 0.37 per cent was elected to a reserved seat.
That is proportionality, and that is democracy.
Finns are no different as human beings from any others. Perhaps their better way of governance may reside on their more modern view and the good fortune of not being chained to stultifying ‘tradition’ such as that of the Westminster System. Independent since 1917, with an original Constitution Act enacted in 1919, recently modified with an Act which came into force on 1 March 2000, and further amended on 1 March 2012, the Finns have declared their country a sovereign republic, in which power is vested in the people, who are represented by the Parliament. Thus begins the very first Chapter of that Constitution. And it goes on: “The constitution shall guarantee the inviolability of human dignity and the freedom and rights of the individual and promote justice in society. Finland participates in international co-operation for the protection of peace and human rights and the development of society.” Chapter 2 is devoted to the protection of “Basic rights and liberties”, listed one by one. In its words one could hear Sibelius, confidently declaring in a letter to his friend Axel Carpelan: “ … I can already make out the mountain that I shall ascend (…) God is opening his doors for a moment, and his orchestra is playing the Fifth Symphony.”
After the New Zealand parliamentary election of 20 September 2014 the 121 seats were divided among the seven successful parties as follows:
National, with 1,131,501 votes and 47.04 per cent, obtained 60 seats.
Labour, with 604,534 votes and 25.13 per cent, obtained 32 seats.
Green, with 257,356 votes and 10.70 per cent, obtained 14 seats.
New Zealand First, with 208,300 votes and 8.66 per cent, obtained 11 seats.
Māori, with 31,850 votes and 1.32 per cent, obtained 2 seats.
Association of Consumers and Taxpayers,
with 16,689 votes and 0.69 per cent, obtained 1 seat.
United Future, with 5,286 votes and 0.22 per cent, obtained 1 seat.
Other parties received 150,104 votes and 6.24 per cent, but obtained no seat.
That may be democracy, representation it is not.
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.