Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Electoral Reform No.1: A Two-Round Election System

Posted by butalidnl on 14 March 2008

The electoral system in the Philippines needs to be reformed. The question is: where should we start? I suggest that we should start with reforms that are both relatively easy to do, and which could make a significant impact.

I suggest that the first thing that should be changed in the election rules is that which governs contests where there are more than two candidates. The present rule is that the candidate who wins the most votes wins (which is the “plurality” rule). And thus, if there are 3 candidates to a post, the winner could get as low as 34% of the vote and still win. If there are 4, the minimum votes needed would be 26%; for 5 candidates it would be 21%. Of course, these are extreme cases, but the point is that candidates would win even if she/he got less than 50% of the vote. This is not really democratic, since democracy means that the majority rules.

The amendment that I propose is to have a second round of elections whenever none of the candidates gets more than 50% of the votes cast (in the first round). The top two candidates in the first round would then fight it out in the second round of elections. This way, anyone who gets elected is sure to have more than 50% of the votes.
This is not a radical idea. A lot of countries have this rule.

This amendment will be both practical and effective. It is practical because:

It is easy to implement. It does not call for a radical change in how we hold elections – only that we may have to do things for a second round, sometimes. It can be implemented immediately in the elections following the passing of the new law.

It does not immediately threaten politicians or any political group. Traditional politicians could find ways to thrive under such an election rule. It may cost a bit more for them due to a longer campaign period, but that is not such a big thing. Since it doesn’t threaten them, existing politicians would not oppose it, and even support it.

It is a reform that is easy to pass in Congress. This reform is a simple change in a small part of the Constitution.  It can be passed simply by a 2/3 vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It will be effective because:

A wider range of political parties would field candidates. Today, there are many more parties than those which field candidates for elections. The smaller parties often do not field candidates for higher positions because of the small chance of winning, especially due to prohibitive campaign expenses. With the rule of a two-round elections, smaller parties would field candidates, even for the top positions. Reasons for them to do this would include:
– it would give their program and candidates wider exposure;
– it would show other political parties how big their mass support is;
– they could endorse candidates in the second round in exchange for concessions.

People could vote for the parties and candidates of their choice without worrying about “strategy”. In the present system of elections, supporters of minor candidates are discouraged from voting for them, by the idea that this would be a wasted vote. Worse, that their vote would indirectly help a candidate they don’t like, by depriving their second choice candidate of their vote. This was shown in the last presidential elections, when people were discouraged from voting for Roco, because this would lessen the support for GMA and thus indirectly help FPJ win the election.
With the two-round election set-up, people will simply vote for the candidate they want, at least in the first round. In the second round, they would then vote for the candidate they prefer (of the two candidates left, that is).

It promotes the political party system. Support by the smaller parties to the bigger ones in the second round will be channeled mainly through parties and less through individual candidates. In countries with the two-round election system e.g. France, we see that parties make arrangements before the elections, to support each other in the second round.

The net effect of all this is that the hold on political power by the political elite would be weakened, and that inter-party transactions would be public (and thus transparent). It would give people a better bond with the political process, and encourage more political participation during and after elections.

The two-round election reform will promote democracy in more than just a formal sense.

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