Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘parliament’

Raffle for Partylist Groups

Posted by butalidnl on 24 June 2012

The Comelec will be holding a raffle of partylist groups to determine their order in the ballot. The poll body had approved Resolution No. 9467 mandating a raffle of accredited party-list groups “for purposes of determining their order of listing in the official ballot” for the May 13, 2013 national and local midterm elections.

The rationale for this is that partylist groups are striving to be the first in the alphabetical order, resulting in a large number of partylist groups’ names starting with the letter ‘A’, and even some starting with ‘1’ (which comes before ‘A’). So now, Comelec wants to just hold a raffle to make the listing ‘fair’.

The problem is that the raffle is not that fair either. If we follow the logic that many people will just vote for the first party on the list of partylist groups, a raffle will mean that the party which gets drawn for the first position would probably get seats for free – simply as a result of pure luck. While more deserving parties with a much better parliamentary record may get less seats than otherwise.

All this sounds like Comelec is earnestly seeking to reinvent the wheel. After all, very many countries have party list systems for their whole parliament. Comelec could have studied how they approach such a problem (and other problems regarding party lists).
In the Netherlands, the whole parliament is elected using the partylist system. Parties are listed based on the votes they got in the preceding elections. New parties then are added at the end of the list, and ordered based on the order of their registration. The system is fair and rather simple. The system ensures that the more significant parties get top ranking, and that new unproved parties start off at the bottom of the list.
Many other countries have similar systems.

A party’s ranking is important. For instance, election debates are open only to the top parties on the list – up to six parties at times. And it does have something like a bandwagon effect – if your party is Nr 1, it convinces some people to vote for it. So, when parties split, there are bitter court cases to determine which faction ‘inherits’ the party identity and its ranking – the loser ends up being ranked as a new party.

The Comelec raffle is scheduled to be held on 14 December. There is still time to scrap the raffle idea, and adopt the Dutch solution to the ‘problem’ of ordering the partylist groups.

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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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Proportionally Represented Parliament

Posted by butalidnl on 20 November 2011

I am not really proposing Charter Change, but if comes down to it, I would propose changing the Philippine system from a US-style winner-take-all district system to a system of proportional representation.

In a proportional representation system, people vote for the party of their choice, and the total seats in parliament are divided based on the percentages of votes for a given party. Thus, if the parliament has 100 members, a party that gets 10% of the votes will get 10 seats.

Why is a Proportional Representation System Better?
A proportional representation system will result in simpler, cheaper government, and the development of real parties. This system could be implemented so that not only is the national parliament elected this way, but also provincial and city officials. Thus, mayors and governors will be selected by city or provincial councils.

Simpler Elections. People would only have to remember the name of the party of their choice, instead of the names of a lot of candidates. This means that he/she would need to remember at most 3 parties (assuming that he prefers different parties for various levels) – for parliament, province and city. Simple.

Administering such an election is simple; the ballots are simple, and if ballot boxes are separated by level (national, provincial, city), counting is just a matter of piling ballots. It also means that less money would be used in the campaign. There would be no need for sample ballots, and advertisements need to only project a party name. Also, campaign machinery is organized per party, there would be no need for a personal campaign machinery.  And because campaigning is cheap, there is less chance that rich people would control the election.

Programs. Members of Parliament will represent the people who voted for their party. And this means that a party’s program will be more important than individual candidates’ profiles. In Europe, this has led to parties representing various parts of the population, with different policy proposals. Parties who are simply for ‘clean government’ or ‘change’ (and thus, no real program) will be voted out. Parties will stress on the policies in which they stand out.

Every Vote Counts. In a district system, minorities have no voice. If you don’t want either of the two choices for an office, you can’t do anything. You may also decide not to vote if you expect that your candidate has on chance of winning. In a proportional representation system, every vote counts towards the seats that the party will be alloted. In theory, even a single vote could result in a difference of one seat in parliament.

No Pork Barrel. Since Members of Parliament represent parties (and not districts), pork barrel allotments would no longer be necessary or even applicable. Members of Parliament will be more focused on the making of laws, and not on naming a school or bridge, or other specific ‘goodies’ for their districts.

Not District Parliamentary
A UK-style district parliament would not be as good as a proportional representation type of parliament. A UK-style parliament will not make every vote count, there would be more (not less) pork barrel, and the rich can still control the outcome of elections. The UK-style system would only be marginally better than a presidential system.

A proportional system of electing representatives already exists in the Philippines – in the form of the party-list system. The party-list system just needs to be expanded to include all the members of parliament, and it should be opened to all political parties.

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Charter Change and Overseas Filipinos

Posted by butalidnl on 25 May 2006

Charter change, or amending the constitution, is a proposal that literally does not include Overseas Filipinos. In the first place, we were not consulted in the process of proposing changes to the constitution. Also, if it finally comes to a referendum on whether or not to accept the constitution, we will not be able to participate. The Overseas Absentee Voting Law, which entitles us Overseas Filipinos to vote, excludes us from participating in referenda and plebiscites.

The government-sponsored proposed amendments to the constitution will also disenfranchise us from participating in Philippine elections. Under the present Overseas Absentee Voting Law, Overseas Filipinos could vote for national posts:i.e. president, vice president, senators and partylist members of the House of Representatives. Under the proposed shift to the parliamentary system these posts will disappear: the president and the prime minister will be voted on by parliament, the Senate will disappear, and even the partylist system will be replaced. This all means that the so-called Charter Change proposal will keep us Overseas Filipinos outside of the Philippine electoral process.

This is not to say that Overseas Filipinos do not have anything to gain from changing the constitution. It’s just that the proposed changes as they now stand will negate our gains so far. We would be more in favor of amendments that will improve our standing as Overseas Filipinos. For one, it would be good to have a number of congress (or parliament) seats allotted to Overseas Filipinos. Also, there could be a clearer framework that would protect our rights while at the same time encourage us to maximize our contribution to Philippine development. These kinds of provisions could all be part of an “Overseas Filipino section” within the constitution. Our role and potential contributions to Philippine society and its economy should warrant such a section.

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