The clause that killed PR

By Dr Noel Kalicharan
October 29, 2013

Dr Noel KalicharanThis article does not concern itself with the pros and cons of proportional representation (PR). I write in my capacity as a student of mathematics, not as a Commissioner on the EBC.

Let me begin by posing a question and I want you to answer it without agonising too much about what the answer should be. Just go with your common sense notion about what you think PR is meant to accomplish.

Party A gets 6,000 votes; party B gets 4,900; party C gets 4,700 and party D gets 4,400. How should four aldermen be allocated? I’ve asked dozens of people this question and they’ve all said the same thing — that each party should get one alderman. The reality is that, based on the formula used for the Local Government Elections (LGE) 2013, party A will get all four aldermen, the others none. One may legitimately ask, how come a system that was supposed to give every voter a voice gives nothing to almost three-quarters of them and everything to just over a quarter?

Here’s one taken from the LGE: In one municipality, Party A got 37,788, party B got 18,331 and party C got 17,750 votes. One could sensibly conclude that A should get two aldermen with B and C getting one each. But, no, A got all four with just over half the votes.

What could have caused this apparently unfair allocation to take place? In the original version of the Municipal Corporations Amendment Bill, this would not have happened and the allocation would have been in keeping with the common sense notion of what PR was all about, that you would get aldermen in proportion to the number of votes you got.

However, some time during the debate in Parliament, probably at the Committee stage, some wise guy or gal added a clause that mandated that a party would qualify for consideration for aldermen only if it got at least 25 percent of the valid votes cast in the municipality. It appears that this was done by persons who did not have a clear understanding of the mathematics and, hence, the implications of such a clause. (I guess that’s what happens when you put lawyers, social/political scientists and politicians to do a mathematician’s job.)

Without doing any analysis, any person with a modicum of mathematical savvy would immediately realise that in a three-party fight, almost half the voters could get no voice, contrary to the stated objective that “every vote will count in every district”. In a four-party fight, almost three-quarters could have no say. The two examples above bear this out. In the first one, the 25 percent cutoff is 5,000 and neither B, C nor D reached it so they got nothing. In the second example, the cutoff was 18,537 (in addition to the three parties, others got a small number of votes) and neither B nor C reached it so A got everything. There are many others examples from the 2013 LGE.

I experimented by doing the allocation of aldermen with and without the clause. (It takes only about five minutes once the voting figures are known.) With the clause, the only municipalities in which the allocation was “proportional” were Chaguanas and Sangre Grande and this only because the three major parties all acquired at least 25 percent of the votes. Without the clause, everything would have worked out just fine with the allocation being proportional in all 14 municipalities.

I’ve heard it said that the clause was added to prevent parties with a very small percentage of votes from getting an alderman. Sounds like a good idea. Yet no one could provide me with an example of how this could happen because it just can’t. The mathematics will ensure that it doesn’t. So the clause was added to solve a problem that didn’t exist but, in so doing, scuttled the good intentions of PR. We ended up with an allocation that was only slightly better than what would have obtained with a First Past The Post system. But, as they say, the longest journey begins with the first step, which we have now taken.

The good news is that the problem is very easy to fix. There are several ways to fine-tune the allocation formula. What is certain is that the 25 percentold must go. Indeed, no threshold is necessary. Those who believe otherwise are invited to provide an example which shows how not having one can create an allocation that is less fair than what currently obtains.

As regular readers would know, I often advise the West Indies Cricket Board that they should hire a competent mathematician to oversee our team’s interests in limited-overs competitions. Not having one has caused us grief in many a match. Perhaps the same advice is pertinent to Parliament. It could save thousands of voters from the grief of not getting an alderman to represent them when they have earned the right to one.

www.newsday.co.tt/commentary/0,185743.html

6 Responses to “The clause that killed PR”


  • The Alderman is a reward for voters who feel their vote would not count. They can have a voice also. The EBC needed time that it did not have to properly formulate this well intentioned process. So hopefully it that can be properly reviewed and amended to do just what it suppose to.
    I always thought that Alderman went to the party that did not win but polled the second highest vote over 25%. That way there is a “constructive” Opposition representing the minority but still due to first past the post the winner always have the final say taking into consideration the views of the alderman in all decisions. The alderman did not have a vote but hold moral sway.
    It is much like a pastor on a church board, he does not have a vote but holds moral sway….

  • Thank you Noel for a brilliant expose of how the formula for the Alderman choosing PR coined by the Dhal Belly Indian back-fired on those whose arrogance feel that they can manipulate divinity to put Him to walk in front so that the Cabal can do what they want and God will not see but God walks behind so that He can see what is going on and record it on our Karma and also allow our free will to determine our actions . The PM does not have the capacity to put God in front since God is all-powerful and omniscient and knows his place inspiring us. As it now stands the much vaunted PR formula based on a 25% vote has created one party rule in the cities and not genuine democracy as intended having been imposed on us at the 11th hour without consultations and the requisite debate. Grounds for the Dhal Belly Indian to resign and go back to singing Bhajans and Ramayan from the Ramcharitarmanas.

  • When governance is placed in the hands of people who campaigned to run a country for the betterment of all the people and they deliberately turns such governance into their personal fiefdom they should be held liable for mismanagement of government. Nothing so that this government has done can be said to be in the true interest of all the people. The idea of PR has always been one that purportedly took and occasioned the goodwill of all even though it is represented by a smaller number of people. But such actions need the input of all the people and not just an overnight thought, as was done by the goodly lady and forced upon the population by the majority in parliament. Government is not to be run by gaps. Maybe, just maybe, we could have had a much wiser law had the people been given a chance to examine and comment on the proposals that is now law, had it been offered for comment and possible examination for a better proposal. That PR was nothing other than a tactic to allow an ailing government to use a mechanism that would ensure its participation in continued governance even though it may not get the favor of the people in a general election. It is sad that politics was the motive of such foolish law.

  • “Here’s one taken from the LGE: In one municipality, Party A got 37,788, party B got 18,331 and party C got 17,750 votes. One could sensibly conclude that A should get two aldermen with B and C getting one each. But, no, A got all four with just over half the votes.”—Noel.

    Definitely, this process has to be reviewed, with party A getting all four, one cannot call that Proportional Represention. That is simply denying the other two parties any representation. Proportional Representation has to include minority voices.

  • Regardless to what we call it, be it Proportional Representation or some other Representation, whether we pass laws to this effect or not, everyone will never have a voice and we will never be equally represented. It is just a fact of life. Proportional Representation is just another power play. Equality? Who are we fooling? The Lion will always get the lion share.

    If the day comes when everyone have a say, we will get nothing done. “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” In politics when the vote is taken the ‘yeas’ will always win, the ‘nays’ get nothing. Everybody is represented in Parliament, even Independents – yeas win, nays lose.

    There is the additional call for Constitutional Reform. What we need is People Reform. We need people to do what they are being paid to do – put all crooks in jail. Do we need to reform the Constitution to get people to do their jobs? Maybe, the goodly Dr. Noel can do the math and see how much money is paid monthly across the board to all our judges, magistrates, MP’s, Senators, security personnel, civil servants and what have you, to get nothing done in Trinidad and Tobago.

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