The electoral model must be changed

The electoral model must be changed
Robert Nesimi

For the past sixteen years Macedonia has elected MPs using a proportional electoral model with closed lists, in six separate electoral districts. There have been six cycles of parliamentary elections during this period, and there is now more than enough evidence to say that this model has a number of shortcomings and therefore should be changed. Over the years it has not guaranteed fair representation of people’s will in Parliament, it has created weak and obedient Parliaments unable to fulfill their elementary duties, and has contributed overall to a weakening democracy in the country, especially within political parties. Now that the model is up for debate and we have a real shot to replace it with something better, it is important to keep in mind what its biggest shortcomings are, especially the ones listed below.

Fair representation – “burned votes”. The number one problem of the current system remains its unfair representation of votes, best illustrated with the phenomenon of “burned votes”. The system favors big parties or parties with concentrated local support, and penalizes those that are spread throughout the country. Very often parties with tens of thousands of votes have failed to win any seats in Parliament. For example the number of burned votes in this manner in 2016 reached around 83.000, or 7% of the total, when parties with more than 10.000 votes such as VMRO for Macedonia, Third Block or Levica did not get any MPs. It was even worse in 2011 when around 120.000 votes were burned, representing about 11% of all valid ballots. VMRO-People’s party with 30.000 votes, New Democracy with 20.000 and a few other parties with 10-15.000 votes were left outside Parliament. This phenomenon is the best argument against the current model, since a model that consistently and totally ignores such a big number of votes cannot be considered fair and correct.

Distortion of results in favor of winners. The other side of the story is the fact that this model gives unreasonable legitimacy where legitimacy hardly exists. Thus VMRO managed to gain an absolute majority twice, even though it never won half of the votes in any election. DUI in the Albanian bloc got half of Albanian MPs with only 35% of the votes of Albanians, and in 2011 got 60% of MPs even though it did not get a majority of votes. As is well known these two parties then ruled as if they had absolute legitimacy, and this was made possible through the distortions of mandates created by the current electoral model.

Small parties. Small parties that are spread throughout the country get massacred by the model. They may have solid support, up to 30.000 votes, and still be in constant risk of remaining completely outside Parliament. This puts them in the arms of big parties, but as we have seen lately their loyalty is easily transferrable to other blocs when in need; a phenomena that completely ingores and distorts the will of their voters when casting ballots for them.

Inequality of voters. Besides the inequalities created when votes are transferred to mandates, this model makes votes unequal even before voting starts. This happens because electoral districts are never equal, and yet they all elect 20 MPs. It happens permanently in electoral district 6, that during last elections had around 27.000 voters more than district 3. Legally speaking this made the parliamentary elections of 2016 and also 2008 unconstitutional, since the difference in voters between districts was greater than the maximum allowed by law. And even though it is a technical problem that could easily be solved at least in paper, the very fact that it happens all the time indicates that it should be seen as an inherent feature of the model, which would simply vanish if we, for example, had a single electoral district encompassing the entire country.

100 MPs elected before voting starts. Since MPs are elected in a proportional system with closed lists, while the arrangement within lists is done by the parties themselves, a great many MPs win their seats as soon as they are formally candidates, that is before any voting has taken place. In each election cycle the safe places in lists are well-known in advance, so in reality elections are held for the remaining 3-4 seats in each district. Voters can only pick a certain list, but not the arrangement of candidates within that list. In practice this means that the people elect only about 20 MPs, while the other 100 are appointed by the parties before voting starts.

Intraparty democracy. In a system where 80% of MPs are appointed with no input from voters, it is no surprise that Parliament barely scratches its head for the people. An MP’s chief worry is how to please the whims of his leader, since he is the only one that can make him an MP again. It is thus to be expected that Parliament is filled with MPs blindly obedient to their leaders, types that never vote against their parties’ instructions. That is precisely the reason why parliamentary majorities never dare to oppose the Government and rather than a check have turned Parliament into a department of Government. For the same reason intraparty democracy in Macedonia is flatly dead. These types of problems would not be automatically solved simply by changing the electoral model, but at least the biggest obstruction to a dignified Parliament and healthy intraparty democracy would have been removed.

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