3 Sep 2013

Lawyer says party strength key in Fiji's new electoral system

4:27 pm on 3 September 2013

A constitutional lawyer and international electoral expert, Dr Andrew Ladley, says the new electoral system planned for Fiji favours organised political parties, both big and small.

The new constitution has done away with multiple constituencies in favour of one covering the whole country, and 50 MPs are to be elected via a multi-member open list system of proportional representation.

Dr Ladley told Sally Round it is it is new for the region and will be watched closely.

ANDREW LADLEY: This is an unusual swing away from the previous engineering system. In the region that is quite new. In other words it's quite new in the Pacific region to have a wholesale attempt to just have political party based proportional representation. So my suspicion is this will be looked at quite closely by groups that are watching Pacific electoral developments to see whether or not the political party requirement is sufficient in Fiji to make the system work, because in many other parts of the Pacific the feeling is that political parties have been too weak to sustain a political party-based proportional list system. Even a closed-list system, but more particularly an open-list system which is quite a complicated request for the voters, to choose people on the list if they wish to. And so this is an unusual development in the region, and it will be interesting to see whether political representation and party strength is sufficient in Fiji for this to work.

SALLY ROUND: You mentioned the complications of this, practically speaking. Can you just elaborate more on why you think it is complicated?

ANDREW LADLEY: You just imagine, say, 20 parties contesting and every party has 50 people on their list. You have to have a ballot mechanism that presents all of that to every voter. And the voters can either just go in and tick the party - 'I want to vote for blue, green, yellow party' - or they can, on an open-list system, they can go in and choose the kind of hierarchy they want in the party and all of that then has to get added up and proportioned. So it's technically, actually, much simpler than running a 50-constituency election in terms of the complexity, because it's one national electorate. But it's still technically quite complicated and there's still quite a lot of votes for education that you have to do in order to make sure it works properly. But in the end it has the advantage of once you get your numerical system working, it has the advantage of simplicity, that you can quite quickly say 50 seats, 50 percent of the vote, you get your first 25, or whatever the top 25 are voted for on your list, just as simple as that. And the same with any other proportion. In the end there's a simplicity about it, but technically, at the time you're running an election, you have to present a lot of material to voters and the voters have got to be instructed and trained as to how much detail they want to engage with this quite complicated ballot paper.