The Australian political system should be examined as a solution for Guyana’s political paralysis

Dear Editor,

Australia holds elections on September 7 with opinion polls suggesting that the incumbent Labour Party led by Kevin Rudd (since June), in coalition with the Greens, will be defeated by the opposition Coalition led by Tony Abbott of the Liberal Party. It is possible for Labour to do better than what the polls suggest because the electoral system allows voters to rank their candidates when they cast their votes so that a winner is chosen by a majority (not a plurality)  and a candidate reflects the true selection of voters as a representative of a district (or division, as an area is called in Australia). Guyana has a PR system that is very different from Australia’s.

Australia has a peculiar electoral system – the Preferential System ‒ that reformers should consider in the case of any possibility of change in the Guyana voting system that will be more reflective of the will of voters. The Australian electoral system offers voters an order of preferences in the selection of representatives resulting in the most liked candidate (with a majority) being chosen to represent a district. If a candidate does not get a majority, the preferences are added and the candidate with majority of preferences wins.

Although people generally vote for a party, the candidate could help to make a difference in certain areas adding seats to a party. This is a system which could be ideal for Guyana given the unpopularity of some political figures in the major parties.

Unlike Guyana, Australia has a bicameral or two chamber parliament ‒ the House of Represen-tatives and the Senate. Guyana should also give consideration to having a bicameral legislature similar to what we had prior to 1968 to allow for greater use of the talent of non-political people. In Australia, the House has 150 members, elected for a maximum term of three years in proportional single member constituencies under the preferential voting system.

The Senate has 76 members, elected through the direct proportionally representative system.

Australia has had a coalition government since 2010 because Labour was short of a majority of 76 MPs (in the House). The leading party was forced to form a coalition with the Greens (five seats) in order to survive.

In Guyana, under the 1980 constitution a leading party (with a plurality) short of a majority is not allowed to enter into a coalition to govern.

This had led to many complaints about the political structure in which a minority is in control of the executive and where the executive depends on support from another parliamentary party to get a majority to pass bills.

The Australian electoral and political system should be examined as a potential solution for the state of political paralysis in Guyana, especially since the three parties seem unwilling to return to an earlier constitutional model which would permit the parties to enter into coalition governance (representative of the population) when no party wins an outright majority.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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