Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly 25 December 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on February 28, 2012

Crucial decisions

We were promised a Christmas gift and a Christmas gift we got. The wrapping was pretty, the delivery of the gift timely but was it to everyone’s liking? Let’s start off by saying that no one expected the Carcassonne proposal to be perfect. Had there been a perfect electoral system, the whole world would have adopted it. So, whatever its shortcomings may be, and we are not going to start with those, the Carcassonne report is an excellent opportunity to structure the debate on electoral reform.

The fi rst striking element about the report is that it does not seem, a priori, to give an advantage to any party, big or small. The proportional representation it recommends means just that: each party gets a number of seats proportionate to the popularity it enjoys in the country. We have seen the First- Past- the- Post system produce freak results. It at times freezes out small parties and excludes some shades of opinion leaving swathes of the population un- represented. Not so with proportional representation.

What is more, each constituency gets a number of MPs proportionate to its size. And, far from the preposterous number of MPs suggested in the Sachs report, 92 paid from our hard- earned money, the electoral mechanism devised by Carcassonne and Co. actually fi nds that the number of representatives in our national assembly is high enough as it is and does not suggest increasing it.

The proposal also moves away from ethnic and sexist politics by providing a way out of the Best Loser System and encouraging representation of minorities and women. Having said that, however, the report does not deal a fi nal blow to these issues. Candidates on party lists will still have to be picked according to their ethnicity ( sorry, lifestyle) and their gender. Such limitations tend to push competence and experience way down the list.

What is worrying about the Carcassonne proposal in my view is the power it takes away from the people to place in the hands of the prime minister and a handful of senior ministers. As it is, these control the cabinet which controls the party caucus which controls parliament. According to the Carcassonne report, they will have the power to even co- opt ministers into cabinet from outside parliament. For the time being, the only person outside parliament the prime minister can nominate is the attorney general.

The leeway the Carcassonne report gives him is up to a third and even recommends that only a fraction of cabinet ministers be nominated from within parliament. The rationale behind this is clear: having people in cabinet who have the relevant competencies but not necessarily the ability or the will to canvass votes. Such people already exist and are at the service of the country: they are called civil servants. They work and advise. Policy making should, however, be left to legitimately elected people.

No one, of course, expected people to go to bat for the proposal lock, stock and barrel. Nor was it, I hope, meant for any other purpose than to generate debate. It has done just that.

Ultimately, the best system is one which refl ects the will of the people and most effectively checks the exercise of executive power. It is the people who will have to decide by the end of the day. Will they be given the opportunity to have a say in a matter which concerns them or will the proposal be shoved down their throats just because the experts think it is good for them? That is where, we think, the debate should begin.

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