Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Implementing a Proportional Representation System

Posted by butalidnl on 27 November 2011

In a previous blog (See ‘Proportionally Represented Parliament’), I dealt with the question of why a proportional representation system is better than the present Philippine system. The advantages include: every vote counts, parties represent programs, simpler and cheaper campaign and elections, no pork barrel. In effect, this means a lot less corruption and more citizen participation.

Now, let us get into more specific things about how a proportional representation system can be set up in the Philippines, and what problems to look out for.

Voting Threshold
One real possible problem would be that proportional representation may end up with so many parties in parliament. If parliament were to have 200 members, they could theoretically represent 200 different parties. Having a lot of parties (even if not really 200) would make forming a governing coalition difficult, and keeping it together would be quite tedious. This is the problem, for example, in India, where they have many parties splintered on regional and caste lines.

In order to avoid that problem, various countries have an Election Threshold – which is a minimum percentage of the vote needed before a party can be represented. In effect, this puts a limit on how small a party can be but still be in parliament.

If the election threshold is set at 5% in a 200-member parliament, the minimum size of a party parliamentary group would be 10 MPs. So, a 5% threshold will result, at most to 20 parties in parliament (i.e. 10 each). In practice, however, the number of parties for a 5% threshold will probably be 5 to 7, with perhaps 3 big ones. The German parliament has a 5% threshold, and it has 5 parties represented.
For the Philippines, I think a 5% threshold is too high. A threshold of 2% will suffice – it would eliminate marginal parties, but allow a wide enough range to be represented.

Personality-Based Parties
While all parties will be required to have a program and a list of candidates to participate in the elections; some parties will not really take their programs seriously. In effect, there would still be party formations built around personalities. This is inevitable, but it is also going to be short-lived. If parties are based on party-lists, there are inevitably going to be politicos who don’t agree with their position on the list, and they may leave. But if they leave and form a new party, the question of who gets top billing recurs. Eventually, these small parties will fail to achieve the election threshold and die out as parties.

One problem for trapos is that, on the average, they will have to get support of twice as many votes to get a proportional representation seat than they did previously for a district seat. To get a district seat, they just had to get a majority (50%+1 of votes); but for a proportional representation seat, they would need to get approximately 100% of all votes of a district (or the equivalent from all over the country). With a threshold of 2%, parties would have to get at least 8 times as many votes as before to even get represented in parliament.
This will be an enormous burden on the capacity of the campaign machinery of trapos.

‘Trapo’ parties will be many during the early days of a proportional representation parliament. But these will splinter and die out with time. By the 3rd or 4th round of elections, the overwhelming majority of parties will be national and program-based.

Absenteeism and Useless Speeches
If an MP is consistently absent, the party has the right to kick that MP out and replace him/her with the next person on the list. Being absent is especially frowned upon because parties vote as blocks, and when one is absent the party in effect loses one vote.

The waste of time due to all kinds of speeches is put at a minimum. During plenary discussions, parties designate issue-spokesperson to present the party stand on an issue or proposed bill. Thus, there will be only one speaker per issue per party. There are no ‘privilege speeches’ by parliamentarians.

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