Thursday, 25 February 2016

Why not Proportional Representation?

In a recent discussion on Singapore's political system, some opposition parties suggested scrapping the GRC (and presumably, first-past-the-post) voting to have Proportional Representation System (PRS).

There is a series of videos on political systems - how to choose a government - on YouTube, by CGP Grey.

First, you should watch the video on The Problems with First Past the Post voting.

This is a 6 1/2 minute video covering the problems with one person one vote, and first-past-the-post rules.

The initial scenario with 7 candidates is similar to the SG 2011 Presidential Election, with the winning candidate, getting less than 50% of the votes.

At 1:40, the video covers why eventually, all such First-past-the-post system will end up with a two party system (like in the US), and (by implication) why most voters don't bother to vote  by then (in the US, voter turn out for the Presidential Elections is about 50% or less in some years).

Gerrymandering is covered briefly from 4:25, and the Spoiler effect of a third party or candidate explained at about 5:10.

CGP Grey expands on the problem (and solutions) of Gerrymandering in another 5 1/2 minute video.

He also has some suggestions on how gerrymandering can be "fixed" or prevented. But the solutions, he points out, aren't very good.

But this post is about the Proportional Representative System. This video explains the pros and cons.

But first, do you like the GRC system?

You do?

Then you will LUUUUURVE the proportional representative system.

Firstly, somewhat like the GRC system you are voting for the PARTY, not the individual candidate. EXCEPT, it's not like the GRC. It is a little worse than the GRC.

At 0:25, the video explains that there is a "secret" meeting by the party to draw up a priority list of candidates. If the result of the polls grants the party 3 seats, the first 3 candidates on the list become MPs. If they win 5 seats, then the first 5 names on their list goes in.

This is worse than the GRC system. In the GRC system you at least know which group of candidates from each party you are voting for.

In the proportional representative system, you could be voting for Charles Chong (in your mind), and get... TIN PEI LIN!

(Or vice versa).

And from the NCMP debate, you can be sure that in the WP list, Lee Li Lian would be way down the list below Daniel Goh.

And you can also be sure that SingFirst will have Tan Jee Say on top of the list, as Kenneth J. will be on top of the Reform Party list. And Chee Soon Juan, and Goh Meng Seng, and Desmond Lim will be on top of their respective parties' lists.

On the plus side... we would not have lost George Yeo in GE 2011.  In fact, no Minister would, if the PAP's list puts their Minister-calibre candidates at the top of their list. Which interestingly, I believe they should not. But that's for another post.

If the PAP does the "obvious", instead of losing George Yeo, we might have instead lost Seah Kian Peng, or Denise Phua, or Seng Han Thong or one of the many "grassroots" type MPs fielded by PAP.

Which I think would be a shame.

But if you object to the GRC because you have no say over the precise choice of your candidate, then, from the above, you would not like PRS. You are not voting for the candidate (or group of candidates). You are voting for the parties, and the party decides who represents you.

Who likes PRS? Small parties. Because instead of having to grow and muster a strong enough support base to win an election, they just need to have enough votes to win them a seat or two in parliament.

And PRS will tend to encourage lots of small parties. If say, for example, Tan Jee Say were not at the top of the SDP's list (when he was with SDP), it would be very unlikely for him to be selected for parliament. However, if he were in his own party (SayFirst), he could put himself at the top of the list and he would have a very good chance of being selected for parliament. With less than 90 seats, every 1.2% of votes could mean a seat in Parliament.

In GE2015, there were 2.26m valid votes cast. This means that any party with 25,397 votes (1.2%) will get one seat in Parliament.

This means even the PPP with the lowest number of votes at 25,475 has more than enough votes to qualify for a seat in Parliament under the PRS.

SingFirst could even get 2 seats! So Tan Jee Say would be in. And... I really don't know any other candidates from SingFirst? Most of their candidates are new in GE2015.

Reform Party would also qualify for 2 seats based on their performance at GE2015. So Kenneth J, will be in. And.... Roy N? M. Ravi? Someone less well known and more sane?

So of course these parties would love the PRS!

The point is that the bar for entry into parliament would be set very low. To get your top priority candidate in, you just need to convince less than 26,000 voters to vote for your party. And that is not difficult, based on the simple analysis of the GE2015 results.

And isn't this great? There would be a plurality of views and perspectives and the PRS would open up this possibility of plurality.

And that is what politics is all about right? Making sure that every segment of the electorate is represented in Parliament?

Well, if that is what you believe political systems should do, then yes, the PRS is just the system for you.

But if you believe the point of politics is to elect a capable and competent government, then, maybe the PRS isn't so great.


PRS will eventually, inevitably lead to weak government. Instead of rewarding parties that can grow in strength, it will encourage weak parties to sprout up, and just pluck the low hanging fruits.

If you HATE the NCMP scheme, you should hate PRS. the PRS in effect will create lots of MPs, representing fringe parties, but unable to form the government. i.e. NCMP in effect if not in name.

It is bean sprout politics. Lots of promise, no potential. No future.

Many political systems/countries realise that the purpose of politics is to elect a strong government, with a clear majority to lead.

In most cases, the system is designed not for proportional representation, but for the election of a viable government (i.e. not weak). So "proportionalists" will point out that the First-Past-The-Post system results in a non-representative parliament (e.g. PAP got less than 70% of the vote in GE2015, but got 93% of the seats in Parliament). That doesn't sound right, does it?

Actually, if you consider that the point of elections and democratic elections is to elect a strong government, then, that "flaw" is actually a "feature".

In Greece, which uses a Proportional Representation System, the best performing party gets another 50 seats to ensure that the party is able to get a majority in parliament. The current government (as of Feb 2016) only had about 36% of the votes, which in a PRS system means they get 36% of the seats, which means that they are unable to form the government (you need 50% + 1 seat).

However, with the provision of 50 additional seats, the best performing party is boosted to majority in parliament, even though they did not win the popular vote.

Which is a distortion of the will of the people, if you are a purist about parliament representing the voters preference.

And yet, Greece does it. You know. The Birthplace of Democracy.

Because a pure PRS would inevitably lead to a weak government. The plurality of views is not going to be resolved into consensus. So what you would have is a weak, coalition-like government

Currently, there are about 11 opposition parties in Singapore. Here's an interesting question for you to think about: How are these parties different from each other?

Or put it another way, why do we need 11 opposition parties? What do each of the party stand for in terms of what they want for Singapore and Singaporeans?

And no, don't tell me I need to read their manifesto. That can change from year to year, or from GE to GE.

The two parties in the US have clear identities and philosophies. The Republicans are anti-abortion, anti-big government, anti-welfare, pro-gun, and pro-business. The Democrats are pro-choice, pro-civil liberties, human rights, and human services.

The question then is, do we know if the opposition parties in Singapore have any clear philosophy, or values, or ideals that they are championing?

In other words, what is their "brand" recognition?

The simple, cynical answer is, the opposition parties in Singapore exists simply to oppose the PAP.

This means that if we move to a PRS, we will simply see a proliferation of opposition parties. That is GREAT for the election of a plurality of views right?

Except... there would be NO plurality of views. These parties will simply oppose for the sake of opposing.

The opposition parties in SG are parties of personality. Or Ego. Exhibit A: Tan Jee Say.

Here's another check: if not for the personalities heading each party, why should you choose say, Reform Party, over SDP? Or vice versa.

Because the parties are so generic (except for WP), so "brand-less", standing for nothing (except opposing for the sake of opposing), the serious, thinking voter would never vote for them (ok, never is a long time. Maybe as a protest vote?)

Because when the thinking voter is aware that the opposition parties are personality (and ego) driven, they realise that no matter what these candidates say, they are in it for themselves, and not for Singaporeans. Not for the good of Singapore.

And this means that it makes no sense for us to switch to a PRS because, what would be "represented", are the egos of small-time politicians who would otherwise be unable to get into parliament.

You may disagree, but IMHO, these small-minded people have no place in parliament. And for that, I am grateful that we have First-Past-The-Post.

PRS would open the side door for insignificant parties seeking to represent their respective fan clubs. Their impact in parliament would be insignificant. Their ideological, philosophical, and political positions would be distinctions without material differences, and they will weaken without adding strength, diversity, or resilience to our political system.

PRS would in the long run may not benefit the most credible opposition party, WP, either. Maybe. On the one hand, PRS would lead to a proliferation of small, fringe parties. These may compete with WP in their attempt to recruit new blood. Oh the other hand, those who are drawn to small fringe parties (i.e. personalities of ego), are not likely the candidates that WP are looking for. So maybe PRS may filter out the ego-trippers.



yuen said...

I see that, 3 days after your long and angry reply to my short comment

you managed to calm down and write something that is still rambling but at least not pure ranting; maybe you would like to read my first comment more carefully

"it is also possible to have two chambers, with lower house first past post and senate proportionate; senate’s role can be something like the
present presidential council expanded in size and scope; the senate can
also take over the role of assessing presidential candidates now
performed by a three-person committee: it would be more authoritative to have this done by an elected body"

would having the chance to be represented in the Senate lead to the proliferation of small parties? if the senate has 20 members, then it takes 5% national vote to get a seat; if the major party gets 60-70%, 5% out of 30-40% opposition vote is not so small; a party with this level of support deserves to be heard in an elected official forum

El Lobo Loco said...


I see that your stupidity is exceeded only by your ego, which in turn is exceeded only by your inability to comprehend.

Me, angry? No. That would be your projection of what you need me to be.

But yes, I can see how you would ignore my "promise" at the end of the previous posts, so that you can believe that I wrote this in response to your... "suggestion".

Wow. A mindless comment from you weighs more with me than the proposal by two opposition party leaders. Truly your ego knows no bounds!

And apparently you believe that you have made a wonderful proposal for a PRS. And your argument for it?

Because it is good to have? nice to have? Because it came out of your pretty little head?

Yes, I have read your insipid comment. It provided nothing by way of logic, facts, arguments, or consideration. It was at best a suggestion - "Why don't we have PRS to select a senate, who then can elect the president". Do I have the gist of your suggestion? Wow. And how long did it take you to come up with this treasure? Bereft of any other supporting argument. And you want a discussion?

When all you have is a suggestion, there really isn't any basis for a discussion.

And you seem to have mistaken my comment box for a suggestion box.

But you do have a point. All my posts are long and rambling. There is a reason for that. It is to filter all those with short attention span.

Unfortunately, some people with short attention span (you) have simply skimmed through the posts without comprehending and proceed to use the comment box as a suggestion box.

When you (show you) understand the arguments in my posts and counter the arguments with logic, facts, and reason, instead of just posting your suggestion of the week, we'll have a debate.