The constituency system will entrench the rule of one party
I read with interest a letter authored by Tarron Khemraj, Mark DaCosta and Terrence Simon, captioned, ‘The PPP/C’s refusal to hold local government elections is hurting all Guyanese’, published in your newspaper on August 7. The three writers registered their call for the holding of the long-overdue local government elections. I take this opportunity to join with the three writers to also register my call for these elections, knowing that, boosted by the related bills passed by Parliament and assented to by the President, they can tremendously contribute to the revival of local democracy and its attendant benefits.
Of concern to me, however, is the call by the three writers for us to revert to a constituency-based electoral system and to do away with the PR (list) system.
This call seems to be ignoring both the history and the demography of Guyana. We already had the constituency system in place before we adopted the list system. The constituency system resulted in the same problem the writers want to resolve, that is, the entrenched rule of one party. In the period immediately preceding the 1964 election, the first election, conducted under the list system, the distribution of seats per votes was skewed in favour of the party which enjoyed the plurality of votes. Historically, this party has been the PPP.
In the 1953 election, the PPP copped 51% of the votes but got 75% seats in Parliament. This amounted to absolute control of Parliament with only 51% of votes cast. In the same election, the other parties (there was no PNC then) got 49% of votes cast but only 25% of seats. In the 1957 election (this was after the split in the PPP), the PPP got 47.6% of the votes cast with 65% of the seats (this is one seat shy of a 2/3 majority in Parliament without a simple majority of votes cast), while the PNC got 39.4% of the votes cast with only 28% of seats, and the other parties, 13% of the votes and 7% of the seats. In that election, although the combined opposition copped 52% of the votes cast, they were only entitled to a combined 35% of seats. In the 1961 election, the PPP got 42% of the votes cast with 57% of the seats, while the PNC got 41% of the votes with 31% of seats and the UF, 16% of votes with 12% of seats. It means that with a combined majority of 57.3% of votes cast for the opposition parties, those parties were only entitled to 43% of the parliamentary seats. With the implementation of the list system, distributive justice prevailed which made it possible for the opposition parties (PNC and UF) to enter into a post-election coalition and form the government in 1964.
In the election immediately after the implementation of the list system, the distribution of seats per votes was as follows: the PPP got 46% of the votes cast with 45% of the seats; the PNC got 41% of the votes with 41% of the seats; the UF got 12% of votes with13% of seats.
Based on this historical experience, and on a lack of specificity and clarity relating to any special
configuration of the constituency system which could correct the structural biases outlined above, the proposition by these three writers seems to be giving the PPP a lifeline at the very moment the party appears to be experiencing its decline.