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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 303
January 05, 2013

This week's issue:
Reviewing Voting System
Human Rights Advocacy
Law Analysis
Reviewing 2012
LLaw Interview
Your Advocate
Law Week

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Reviewing Voting System

Voting system should be changed

Md. Abdul Alim

Bangladesh's voting system, the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system, is a type of plurality/majority (P/M) system. In this voting system whoever gets the most votes wins, regardless of how many millions of votes, they fall short of obtaining majority. Although this voting system is undoubtedly the most popular and 69 countries (International IDEA, 2008:166) of the world are now using this system to choose their representatives, the question is how suitable it is for Bangladesh. Is the system improving democracy, governance and rule of law? or breeding corruption and endangering democracy in the country? This article has analysed those issues and suggested an alternative which I think more suitable in the context of Bangladesh.

Theoretically, (1) the FPTP is a winner-take-all system. This system is a zero-sum game. In this game, one candidate wins and all other loses and the winner takes. In this system the party which wins enjoys all privileges of the government. (2) FPTP electoral system is an anti-democratic one; the elected candidate is selected by a portion of the voters and supporters of the party. Votes caste by other voters go in vain. This system allows 51 percent of voters to win 100 percent of representation. (3) The FPTP system breeds corruption both in nomination process as well it encourages candidates to buy votes. As the individual candidate wants to get nomination, there is huge scope to sell and buy nomination especially in the context of Bangladesh. Moreover, the system encourage businessman and industrialists to invest money in the elections. (4) One of the classic attributes of the FPTP system is that it can cause a wide discrepancy between the % of votes secured and the % of seats secured. For instance in the 2008 parliamentary elections in AL won 230 seats (77%) with 49% of the votes cast, whereas the second-placed BNP won 29 seats (9.7%) with 33% of the votes cast. The third-placed JP secured 27 seats with just under 7% of the vote and the Jamaat won 2 seats with some 4.5% of the vote. So voters are represented unequally. (5) In FPTP system, minor parties and candidates can find it difficult to win against the combined weight of major party candidates.

Practically, in Bangladesh, the ruling party captures everything. All the institutions responsible for ensuring governance such as parliament, appointment authority, judiciary, law enforcement agencies, anti-corruption commission work for the benefit of the ruling party. Opposition here has hardly scope to do ordinary business. They are not considered as a part of the government. It's a real problem for our politics and as a result, parties main objective has become to go in power instead of doing mankind. So the democracy here has become electoral democracy. Moreover, due to the weakness of the FPTP system, the number of businessman in the electoral process have been increasing day by day. Although the RPO has a provision that the parties have to nominate candidates who have been the members of the parties for at least three years, the mechanism is not functioning due to the weakness of our electoral system.

Thus, winner-take-all systems are an anachronism in the modern world, as nearly every emerging democracy has rejected the use of FPTP system. This system was introduced in many countries of the world by the British during the colonial era, and is virtually unknown in other developed countries. Their failings lie at the root of many of our current political problems. This system produces many anti-democratic effects, and may be a major reason for many of our country's current problems, including its rule by two parties which in some respects are similar enough that some people consider them to be two wings of the same party. So what is the solution?

The best way out from this devastating situation is the Proportional Representation (PR) system. The PR voting is the main rival to P/M voting. The basic approach of PR is simple: legislators are elected in multi-member districts instead of single-member districts, and the number of seats that a party wins in an election is proportional to the amount of its support among voters. So if a country has a 10-member district and the X party wins 50% of the vote, they receive five of the ten seats. If the Y party wins 30% of the vote, they get three seats; and if a third party gets 20% of the vote, they win two seats. In such a system, the emphasis is given on the representation of diverse social, economic, or ideological interests rather than on the linkage between the individual representative and a territorial constituency. As a result, individuals do not run to become candidates and hence, selling of nomination would be stopped and politics would not be considered as a business. In many western democracies where there is PR electoral system, the opposition enjoys potential power, even in some countries the opposition has more power than ruling party.

Bangladesh is a country where politics has become a gainful business and businessman and industrialists are getting nomination and become MPs and ministers. The FPTP voting is giving this opportunity. So the voting system should be changed into PR system as this system can create scope for the oppositions to take part in the government activities which may keep the oppositions not to call hartals and abstain from parliament. Moreover, PR voting systems provide more accurate representation of parties, better representation for political and racial minorities, fewer wasted votes, higher levels of voter turnout, better representation of women, greater likelihood of majority rule, and little opportunity for gerrymandering which ultimately decrease corruption in the country, bring stability to our parliament and make scope for the treasury bench and opposition to work together.

Election Commission has just hold dialogues with political parties and this issue has not been discussed. Before the 10th parliamentary election, another series of dialogue could be arranged as BNP and its alliance has not participated in the dialogue. So BEC, in order to ensure governance in the electoral process and in the long run to improve governance in the state affairs, should consider to revise the RPO and bring PR system of voting.

The writer is a former head of the Election Project, UNDP Bangladesh, presently perusing PhD in the field of electoral governance.





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