National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel)

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Single non-transferable vote

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Single Non-Transferable Vote

by Damaso G. Magbual, NAMFREL National Council member
(Prepared after the 2005 Afghanistan Wolesi Jirga election)

WHAT IT IS

In a “Single-non-transferable-vote” system, the voter votes for only one candidate regardless of the number of seats a given constituency is allotted. Hence, Kabul has 33 seats but the voter can only vote for one candidate. The candidates with the highest vote totals fill these seats. The top 24 male candidates and the top 9 female candidates will fill up the 33 seats then in Kabul.

WHY IT WAS ADOPTED

SNTV was chosen as the electoral system for Afghanistan for two main reasons. First, SNTV is noted for its simplicity and therefore practical for a country with a high level of illiteracy. It is easy to explain to the voter, it is easy for the voter to follow at the voting booth and it is easy for the polling officials to count. Further, there is the perception that Afghanis basically distrust political parties in that these are associated with the Soviet Union that invaded the country as well as the militia groups that resisted the Soviets. Both evoke unhappy memories to the Afghan people.

WEAKNESSES

Strong and viable political parties are essential in a parliamentary system. As an electoral system however, SNTV does not promote party development, growth and harmony.

1. The system (SNTV) presents a problem to parties in the nomination and fielding of candidates. If a given party presents too many candidates the votes may be so spread out among the candidates so that not a single candidate is elected. On the other hand, if the party does not nominate enough, the winning candidates may garner more than enough votes, the surplus of which could have elected one or more candidates of the party.

2. Under the system, candidates of one party do not only compete against the candidates of rival parties but against their own party mates. Hence, each candidate is concerned with his own interest i.e. his own election. The system forces them to a situation of “to each his own” and who cares about the other candidates of the party or the party itself for that matter.

3. The system favors candidates with vast resources, whether they are running as candidates of a political party or as independent candidates. This was very noticeable during the campaign period in Afghanistan.

4. The system promotes a “politics of personality” that may not necessarily elect candidates who are best qualified to lead. The experience in Philippine politics shows how popular personalities from the entertainment industry (movie stars), the sporting world (basketball players), or even notorious characters (some with criminal records) get elected to public office simply because they are popular but too often ill-prepared and ill-equipped for the office for which they were elected. Too often, the “politics of personality” metamorphoses to the “politics of patronage.”

VOTE ALLOCATION

Developed democracies that use (Japan, South Korea have long discarded this system) this system employ “vote allocation” to distribute votes to the different candidates of a given party to maximize the number of seats they can win. Political parties design a mechanism by which their voters are assigned the candidate they’ll vote for. In Taiwan for instance, the voter’s birth month or the ID number is used as reference for vote allocation. Hence, if the voter is born in the month of October, he votes for candidate Number 10 if the party has a candidate by that number. Incidentally, Taiwan likewise has abolished the SNTV as its electoral system, and the last election under this system was held in December 2004.

Vote allocation is a restriction on the freedom of choice. A genuine, free and fair election requires that there are no restrictions on the voter in the exercise of his choice. Vote allocation violates this right since his choice may not be what the party assigned/allocated to him.

Proponents of the system justify vote allocation as an expression of support for the party. Genuine party support has to be earned or justified by something that is of value to the voter such as programs of government that will ultimately benefit the citizenry. Blind party loyalty does not promote party harmony. Only the “weak” and undeserving candidates are benefited by vote allocation. The most deserving are not necessarily assured of victory.

ROLE of PARTIES

Political parties play an important role in a new democracy like Afghanistan. The political parties can help organize the new parliament, not an easy task considering the fact that it has been three decades ago when the country last had a working parliament. Political parties can help integrate the new members of parliament from diverse ethnic and linguistic groups, most of whom ran as independent candidates. And finally, the parties can serve as vehicles for policy proposals and decisions.

The new parliament therefore should consider replacing the “Single-non-transferable-vote” the most unpopular electoral system, into something more conducive to building and developing strong political parties, such as the Proportional Representation system.

Mr. Magbual is also the chairperson of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL).

Written by namfrel

September 16, 2010 at 11:08 pm

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