Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

We need to introduce Proportional Representation (No, we haven’t already got it, and yes, we can get it without a referendum too.)

Posted by Jason O on Jun 23, 2009 in Irish Politics |

PR by the back door?

PR by the back door?

Pause…….I know what you’re going to say: “But we have PR!” Well, actually, we don’t. What we have is an electoral system which admittedly is fair in that, unlike the UK, it actually counts all the votes. However, it isn’t proportional, because it sets a very high quota (Between 15%-25%) to win a seat, and as a result, voters cannot elect “pure candidates”. Small parties with small first preferences and poor transfers struggle to get elected.

What it means is that most candidates who get elected are basically middle of the road, politics free, and transfer friendly. It means that we end up with politicians who have almost no political ideals. Just look at the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael parliamentary parties. Most of their members are interchangeable. Even Labour and the PDs had people in their PPs who were local grafters with a party label as opposed to been ideals driven.

Is this a good thing? We end up with a centrist political system, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it makes change very very slow. Where are the groups of TDs who are elected with a hope of changing specific things as opposed to just being TDs whatever it takes? Why do we not have a strong socialist party, for example? Sure, people point to Joe Higgins in the EP elections, but even Joe will admit that a lot of people who transferred to him would actually be opposed to socialist policies, yet without them, he would not be elected. Why should socialist voters have to rely on non-socialist votes in order to be represented?  

A list system would change this, in that it would allow for parties which are ideas driven to be elected in their own right. People say that they don’t want list systems, because they restrict choice of candidate, but we don’t need to do that. What we could do is do what Australia does. Whilst still using STV, we could create much larger constituencies (Perhaps a 24 seat South Dublin constituency, or a single national constituency of 50 seats running alonside the county based constituencies?) which would lower the quota. How would we count it? What about how long the ballot paper would be? The Australians have solved this with their Senate, and a change in the ballot paper which allows voters to vote for individual candidates or else vote for a party’s pre-approved order of preferences, as 92% of Australians do. You can see the ballot paper here. We can do this, and it is constitutional, in that the maximum size of constituencies, and how STV is actually counted, is dealt with by law, not the constitution.

Our political system is exceptionally resistant to new ideas, and indeed to candidates with new ideas. Why is it that neutrality or abortion have never been settled here? Because we have candidates who want transfer votes, and so do not want to deal with “controversial” issues. Just look at the sort of political leaflets you got during the last elections. I’ll bet 90% of them said nothing that most other candidates couldn’t agree with. That’s not the way the system should work. We should have parties solely dedicated to public sector workers interests and business interests and rural interests. Would it be more divisive? Yes. That’s what elections are actually for.   



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