Republic means a nation where supreme power rests in all citizens; that power is to be exercised by representatives elected by them. Selection of representatives can be done in different ways. It started with a simplistic method that contestant who receives maximum vote will be selected as representative. This is known as plurality majority voting system.
During practice it is revealed that the system does not produce proper representation. In case, there are two candidates one can win with a minimum of slightly over 50 per cent vote. The rest 49 per cent of the voters who did not vote for that contestant failed to get their representation in the winning participant. Representation of people continues to decline with increased number of contestants.
Governments formed as a result of that voting system in most cases, have minority voters’ representation. In addition, ever diminishing representation of smaller parties, insignificant representation of ethnic and religious minorities is common. Candidates contest for a single constituency. They have direct involvement and self interest in election within constituencies. Temptation for resorting to irregularities and violence during election process becomes a reality. As such, greater possibility for exerting undue influence on election results is also observed.
Ultimately, election and politics move towards board based two party political paradigms. Left lean liberal and right tilted conservatives form two rival political alliances and most small parties contest under any of those in line with their own political inclination.
India, UK, USA, Bangladesh etc. who have been following ‘plurality majority’ voting system tend to have similarity in this respect. In some cases, like in Bangladesh, smaller political parties even use election symbol of leading party of alliance.
Under that circumstance, another voting system known as Proportional Representation Voting (PR) has been evolved. PR minimizes all the mentioned drawbacks.
PR voting system in most cases results in formation of coalition governments. Coalition governments are considered weaker and unstable. But it generally ensures better accountability of government.
Western democracies have been increasingly adopting PR voting system. In Western Europe, 21 out of 28 countries use proportional representation.
Representatives are elected in all constituencies. The number of seats that a party wins in an election is proportional to the amount of its support among voters. So, in a 300 member parliament, if a political party wins 50 per cent of votes from the total constituencies, they receive 50 per cent of 300 that is 150 seats. If another party wins 20 per cent of votes, they get 60 seats. Idea behind is to ensure that the right of representation belongs to all.
Electoral system designers have devised several ways to achieve these proportional results. There are broadly three basic kinds of PR as described below; Party list, Mixed-Member, and Single-Transferable vote.
Party list voting systems are most widely used form of proportional representation. Over 80 per cent of the PR systems used worldwide are some form of party list voting.
Each party puts up a list of candidates equal to the total number of constituencies. Independent candidates may also run. They are listed separately on the ballot as if they are their own party.
There are two types of list systems, closed list and open list. In a closed list system party fixes the order in which candidates are listed and elected. Voters cast a vote for the party of its choice. Voters are not in a position to indicate their preference for any candidate on the list. They are to accept the list in the order presented by party. Winning candidates are selected in the exact order they appear on the original list.
Most European democracies now use open list form. This form allows voters to express a preference for particular candidates, not just parties. It gives voters some say over order of the list and thus which candidates get elected.
Actual allocation of seats for the political parties and independent candidates on the basis of votes received are done using different formulas. The simplest one is called “largest remainder formula”.
Mixed-Member Proportional Representation is also known as “The German System”. Mixed Member is a mixture of Plurality-Majority voting and Proportional Representation voting systems. It provides geographical representation and close constituency ties of single member plurality voting and the fairness and diversity of representation of PR voting.
Under this system, people cast their votes on a double ballot. On one part they vote for a constituency representative. Typically half of the total numbers of seats in the legislature are filled in this way.
On the other part of ballot voters indicate their choice among parties. Each party publishes list of choice candidates. Party votes are counted on a national basis to determine the total portion of full legislature each party deserves. Candidates from each party’s list are then added to its constituency winning ones, until that party reaches its appropriate share of seats fulfilling PR.
Single Transferable Vote system (STV) is also called “Choice Voting”. All candidates are listed in the same place on that ballot. Instead of voting for one person, voters rank each candidate in their order of choice. This system involves a process of transferring votes. The transfer process in STV is complicated. But it is accepted as it ensures fewest vote waste and maximum number of people gets to elect a representative to office. Bangladesh adopted STV for filling up seats reserved for women in National Parliament.
In Bangladesh, many people are unhappy with the confrontational rivalry of the existing two main stream political parties and their way of governance. They desire that a third political force should emerge to break their monopoly on state power. People feel, existing political culture and governance could be improved by that way.
Several in Bangladesh aspire that multi-party democracy should be practiced in its true spirit. Main barrier for practice of multi-party democracy and subsequent rise of third force is the existing election system. As mentioned, present voting system creates main two stream election platform. Smaller parties join any one suiting their choice and purpose. In case, any of the leading parties of the alliances becomes too weak, it could be replaced by another party. But, a third force beyond the two will be quite unlikely.
Liberation war has resulted into creation of “Peoples Republic of Bangladesh”. It has positioned ‘democracy’ to be the beacon of governance. Proper representation of all citizens with diverse political ideologies, minorities and ethnic groups in governance process plays a very important role to ensure that.
Reform of present election system only can guarantee the above. Proportional representation voting system (“Party List”, open type) could be the option.