UK Election: FPTP System the Biggest Loser?


Partyforumseasia: Whoever has been standing for elections knows how highly emotional this test can be. The British parliamentary election on 7 May has produced quite a few losers, especially Ed Miliband from the Labour Party, Nick Clegg from the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party who all resigned from their party leadership after the fiasco. UK losersThe media did not hesitate to show their not amused faces, but there were two more losers, namely the polling institutes which had not foreseen the conservative victory at all, and – as commentators were quick to blame as well – the very British electoral system. The first-past-the-post system (or FPTP) , also practiced by former British colonies in Southeast Asia, like Malaysia and Singapore, allows parties with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote to win an absolute majority. In this election the Tories made it with just 36.9 %. From a continental perspective where different systems of proportional election systems reflect the popular vote results, it is difficult to imagine that the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 56 seats with only 4.8 % of the popular vote, the UKIP only one seat with 12.6%, and the Liberal Democrats eight seats with 7.8%. But this is the majority – winner takes all – system in which all votes not given to the winner are totally lost or wasted. This is why – except within the Conservative and Scottish Party of course – a discussion about electoral reform is intensifying, similar to the situation in Malaysia where the ruling coalition survived the 2013 general election due to the first-past-the-post system and the exaggerated weight of rural constituencies with few voters.
A comparison of the UK results under a different election system is rather interesting. A German university has compared the FPTP system with the German proportional one:
UK fptp vs proportionalThe hollow columns show the theoretical proportional outcome with the surprising difference that the Scottish National Party wouldn’t  have won any seat (because of the 5% minimum threshold), the Liberal Democrats in contrast 54, and UKIP no less than 92 seats instead of one!!!

A completely different  question is whether the proportional system is always more desirable just because it looks fairer and shows the “will of the people”. The more and more diversifying party scene in many countries world wide can produce unforeseen results as well. Take for example the German election 2013 which forced the Christian and Social Democrats into a “grand coalition” after fighting against each other in the campaign and left the federal parliament with a tiny opposition. Or the difficult formation of a government coalition in Israel recently, which forced the incumbent prime minister Netanjahu into a rather humiliating compromise with radical fringe parties. It is probably safe to say that very few voters in both countries, if any, really wanted such an outcome.

Partyforumseasia‘s preliminary and debatable conclusions:
1. Electoral reform is already difficult to implement, but on top of that there is no guarantee that it works as intended.
2. No electoral system guarantees good governance.

Gerrymandering in Malaysia…and Elsewhere


Partyforumseasia: In its August 9th -15th 2014 issue, The Economist, a British weekly, is taking up the gerrymandering issue which a majority of Malaysian voters may have forgotten already after the last election in May 2013. That is the normal all over the world because manipulation of the electoral boundaries happens outside media attention and looks nearly legally correct. GerrymanderingThe ruling Barisan Nasional won 60% of the seats with only 47% of the vote, whereas the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition garnered 51% of the popular vote but was left with only 40% of the seats in Parliament. Malaysia, as a former British colony, adopted the British first-past-the-post electoral system which is designed to create strong majorities, irrespective of the distribution of the popular vote. To make the system even more “efficient”, the commissions in charge of delineating the constituency boundaries may carve them in a partisan way if they are close to one of the competing parties or coalitions. This is called gerrymandering and started in 1812, when the governor Elbridge Garry of Masschusetts created an electoral district which looked like a salamander on the map and was clearly favorable for his Democratic Republican Party. Until today, according to the ACE Project or Electoral Knowledge Network (aceproject.org), the USA is still at the extreme end of the spectrum between independent and partisan election commissions: “At one end of the spectrum is the United States, where the redistricting process is very political and decentralised. The responsibility for drawing districts for the United States Congress rests individually with the fifty states. There are few limitations on the states, and the boundary authorities are almost always political entities, i.e., state legislatures.
At the other end of the spectrum are many of the Commonwealth countries, where politicians have opted out of the redistricting process and granted the authority to redistrict to neutral or independent commissions.GB ConstituenciesLink here

Britain has done and is doing a lot to adjust the electoral boundaries to the demographic changes and create fair chances for the competing parties. The average number of voters per district is around 75,000 with few exceptions like East Ham (London) at 91,531 and Orkney and Shetland at 33,755 (2010).

The crux in Malaysia is that a defined maximum variation (normally 10-15%) has been taken out of the constitution and that it can reach several hundred percent. Sure, the rural constituencies in Sabah and Sarawk are difficult to administer, but Indonesia is geographically even more difficult and has managed the parliamentary and presidential elections this year much better.The Malaysian Election Commission is handpicked by the government anyway, but it does not look good that its former chairman has joined the Barisan National’s right-wing support group Perkasa.