Parliamentary Election ahead in Bangladesh: A few issues

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Bangladesh elects 300-members of Parliament from single member constituencies for a term of five years using the first-past-the post voting system and the candidate receiving one vote majority from the other candidate is elected from a constituency. The other candidate receiving 99 votes receives nothing and the votes are not counted because the person loses the election.  The current voting system awards 100% of the representation to a 50.1% majority.  This voting system is borrowed from Britain.

The above voting system, is based on “the winner-take-all” principle.   This is unjust because it leaves minorities (ethnic or political) unrepresented. As the 19th century Scottish philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote: “It is essential part of democracy that minorities should be represented” Mill also underscored the importance of voters having a full range of choices and representation in parliament of their different communities of interests.

In the context of the above paragraphs, it could be argued that the current “first-past-post voting” system reflects the democracy-deficit arrangement for the following reasons

First, for the sake of wider participatory democracy, there is a strong view the voting system of proportional representation (sometime known as full representation) is required to be introduced for electing members of the parliament. With the proportional representation (PR) system, voters have a larger choice of candidates/political parties.  The above process also means that there is a wider selection of candidates who represent different sections of community in parliament.

Second, various mechanisms may work to provide PR system. One PR system may not suit all countries.  While the principle of full representation is fundamental, New Zealand, Italy and Germany are among a growing number of democratic nations that use systems with a mix of “winner-take-all” and PR method.

Third, the current system of representation does not represent women fully. Moreover the professional class or eminent citizens are under represented. These inadequacies can be corrected by only through PR practice.

Fourth, PR fosters democratic pluralism and governance is more likely to take place at the centre of the political spectrum since the electorate is fully represented and voters are able to express a wider range of preferences.

Fifth, voices of opposition political parties will be heard more and their ideas will be far more likely to be debated in the parliament and the media will pick up these ideas so as to spread among the people at large. If those ideas win growing support among voters, the political parties will adjust or amend their policies in order to hold onto their supporters.

Sixth, in modern day politics, the emergence of various-interest groups representing political parties including the environment-friendly ones is a new phenomenon and it demonstrates plurality of views among the electorate.

Seventh, under PR system, the one party majority rule in the country is not possible. This being so, in many countries a mixture of PR and” the first-past-the pos” method is gradually initiated.

However the critics of PR system say that this system makes a government unstable because representatives of so many political parties sometimes change their views on issues and it is difficult for them to come to one united views. They argue that there remains an inherent seed of instability which grows gradually within the system.

Despite the above demerits of the PR system,  it could be argued that the advantages of PR  outweigh the disadvantages  because it introduces democratic pluralism which compel the ruling government to come to compromises so that the legislation takes into account the views of most of the people represented in parliament with PR.

It could be argued further that the real culprit for deficit democracy is the current system of “winners-take-all” in elections. Voters across the spectrum tend to support participatory wider democracy or feel poorly represented by the current method.

Many constitutional experts take the view that Bangladesh may adopt this voting system to join the vast majority of mature democracies, such as Germany, Italy and New Zealand which have adopted the PR system.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 34
  • Issue 49 - 50

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