One Man, One Vote, One Value Part II: Other Types of Electorates

By Crosbie Walsh

In Part I I discussed the use of provinces as the base unit for parliamentary elections, with modifications where necessary to accommodate the wide differences that exist between provincial numbers and the representation of ethnic groups in each province. My conclusion was that a system based on provinces could not result in one man one vote one value. I likened the task to fitting round pegs in square holes.

The smaller rural iTaukei provinces had to be over-represented. A further disadvantage was that, however rearranged, some provinces and electorates would be overwhelmingly iTaukei or Kaindia, and that this division would hinder multi-ethnic and pro-Fiji work inside and outside parliament. The association with provinces by iTaukei was recognized but it was thought several structures outside parliament, most notably the Provincial Councils, could meet this need. Finally, in looking forward to the shape of a new parliament, I acknowledged the recommendations of the People's Charter, Government's non-negotiable  principles, and the views still being expressed to the Constitution Commission, and proposed 15 values and issues, listed at the end of the article, that need to be taken into account. In the discussion which follows the first principle, proportional representation: one man one vote one value, is taken as acceptable to all Fiji citizens. The problem is how to accommodate other interests such as a smaller parliament, similarly sized and representative electorates, voter identification with candidates and MP accessibility.

In this article I will first make one last effort to use the provinces as electorate bases. This will be followed by considering the 25 Open electorates used since the 1999 elections as possible bases and finally we will consider Fiji's four administrative divisions to see how well they satisfy the 15 values and issues.

Electorates Based on Provinces

In Table 4, we have an essentially one man one vote one value system based on proportionality according to provincial populations with two important modifications: Five “reserve” seats are set aside for the smaller provinces, to which Navosa, that wants separate recognition from Nadroga, have been added. And a further three reserve seats, the same as in the 2006 elections for General Voters have be set aside for the ethnic minorities, but this time separate recognition is given to Part-Europeans, Other Pacific Islanders, and Europeans/Chinese. The separation is not perfect but it is an improvement on their sharing of the one General Voters umbrella.

Provision as also been made for 10 seats and parliament has been reduced in size from 71 to 65.

The Open Electorates

When Map 16.8 is compared with Map 1.1 (in Part I) it will be seen that the 25 Open electorates, in which iTaukei, Indo-Fijians and Generals all voted, were essentially based on provinces, or divisions or combinations of provinces. The reduction in the number of electorates has somewhat reduced their unequal representation but the the largest had 23,700 registered voters in 2006 and the smallest 15,200, with an average  size of 19,000. One major problem remains. Most electorates are still dominated by iTaukei or by Indo-Fijians, and the Fiji average of 53.4% iTaukei, 42.6% Indo-Fijian, 1.1% General, and 2.9% Rotuman is far from typical. Like many other things in Fiji, the arithmetic mean is not always meaningful.

Should the Constitution Assembly vote for fewer electorates with multiple MPs, which Government seems to prefer, the Open seats could produce 25 MPs, perhaps with the remainder made up of list MPs, taking the unequal ethnic distributions within most electorates into consideration, or the number could be doubled to two MPs an electorate and 10 list MPs to make up a parliament of 60, 11 less than the 2006 parliament.

Electorates based on Divisions
There has been talk of basing the new electorates on Fiji's four Administrative Divisions but this as Table 5 shows still leaves the problems of equal numbers and reasonably equal distribution of the ethnic groups unresolved. There is no way the principles of one man one vote one value with reasonably equal ethnic distributions between electorates can be achieved while also protecting some degree of geographic proximity.

The only answer is not to be bound by existing boundaries but look at the situation through the other end of the telescope. Start with the number of seats wanted in Parliament. Let us say 60. Subtract the number of list seats required (say 10, which leaves 50 electoral M.Ps). Decide on the number of M.Ps to represent each electorate, say an average of 5, and then create 10 relatively contiguous electorates with approximately equal numbers of voters.

Electorates designed in this way will tend to neutralise ethnic disparities which, it could be argued, is essential for national unity because it will help to break the hold of extreme ethnic nationalists on rural populations and provinces, and so make it difficult for future coup plotters to mobilise support. But this arrangement also has its downside. Large electorates favour the larger parties, smaller local parties standing on local issues are disadvantaged, as also are people standing as Independent candidates.

I have no suggestions on how to avoid these problems at the national level but the solution may be found in revising local government: the municipal governments, the ministries responsible for rural affairs, and the provincial governments. Such a recommendation was made by the Reeves Commission in its report that led to the 1997 Constitution but no government has acted on these recommendations. I hope the Constitution Commission will make up for their omissions.

There is another problem with large electorates: people find it difficult to identify with candidates and MPs. They are no longer their MPs. They have to share them with others. If it was difficult, for reasons of distance and other reasons, to talanoa with MPs, it will be more difficult now. Unless. Unless, the establishment of a permanent Electoral Office also includes establishing MPs offices around the country that are semi-permanently staffed and accessible to voters.

Making the list system open where voters choose the order of list parties proposed by the parties will also assist a feeling of identity. The danger here is in the number of candidates, list and electoral, voters will be confronted with. The electoral list could well have 20 candidates (six MPs times three or more parties) there could well be more than that number of list MPs to choose from.
A major defect of the alternative vote system used in 2006 was was that it confused voters. The system that replaces it must be less confusing.

In conclusion, let us look again at the 15 principles and issues mentioned in opening.
Numbers 1-4, 6 are accepted as necessities; No.5 is considered unnecessary if the number of MPs vary in each electorate; there is no perfect answer to Nos 7-9 but a permanent Elections Office and MPs offices located strategically in each of the electorates will help; Nos 10-11, 13 can be addressed outside the electoral system; Nos 12 and 14 can be addressed by the political parties in their selection of electorate and list candidates; and No. is unnecessary.
  1. Proportional representation: one man one vote one value
  2. A List system, preferably open but possibly closed
  3. A smaller parliament
  4. Most (or all) electorates to be Open with the "best possible" mix of ethnicities
  5. Electorates of similar population numbers
  6. Reduced number of electorates with multi MPs
  7. Identification with a geographic, administrative and/or cultural area
  8. Voter identification with the election candidates and the MPs elected
  9. MP Accessibility 
  10. Protection of iTaukei rights
  11. Protection of Indo-Fijian rights
  12. Representation  of ethnic and other minorities
  13. Representation of "neglected" areas such as Navosa and Yasawas
  14. More equable representation of  women
  15. Possible "reserve" seats to facilitate 12, 13, 14

On Wednesday I published the submission to the Constitution Commission by members of the Auckland diaspora led by John Samy who was a key figure in the People's Charter.
I recommend readers read the submission. I agree or am prepared to be persuaded by most of their submission which incorporates many of principles noted above, and I am particularly supportive of most of the extra-parliamentary supportive measures recommended. A strong and efficient government needs far more than support in parliament. But I think there should be more than five electorates. I am uncertain Senate should be abolished without first considering modifications; and I am not sure their idea to have non-elected non-voting professional and technical people appointed as Cabinet Ministers is a sound one  although Government clearly needs to access to the best possible advice. Their appointment as senators or as members of standing committees may be a better way to provide government with these skills.

Further, I disagree with the submission on the question of imunity and the immediate role of the military. It is unrealistic to assume the present Government will not seek immunity, a presence in the new government, and a wish to keep the military on “standby” during parliament's first term in office. If it does not do so, the new constitution could be overthrown. I hope the Commission and the Assembly will recognize, but place limits around, these realities.


Anonymous said…
Ian Simpson , Taveuni

"There is another problem with large electorates: people find it difficult to identify with candidates and MPs. They are no longer their MPs. They have to share them with others. If it was difficult, for reasons of distance and other reasons, to talanoa with MPs, it will be more difficult now. Unless. Unless, the establishment of a permanent Electoral Office also includes establishing MPs offices around the country that are semi-permanently staffed and accessible to voters."

Same O, same O, Croz.

40 long years of failed system to continue on, and on, and on.

Do you seriuosly think for one moment that the Electoral Office is going to be funded. Why in the world would MP's want to fund anything that makes them more accountable, let alone the civil service who want MP's to be less empowered, not more empowered. Some reality please.

As you know I am proposing a One Part State.

A Presidential system would still be far preferable to the Westminster system. Give our Governor (Prime Minister)the opportunity to pick the best in our country to be in his cabinet. Let the Governor be answerable to the house of Reps and let him hire a team that is accountable to him. The last thing we need is for a governor (PM) to be forced into having to put a team together from a bunch of politicians.

The Westminster system represents total and utter disaster for our nation.

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