In today’s Irish Times John Rogers is the latest to propose electoral reform as the solution to all our woes. The gist of his proposed new system is as follows:
“Let’s assume a Dáil of, say, 120 deputies. Let us arbitrarily, for the sake of discussion, divide that membership into two groups. The first comprises 80 deputies elected from 16 constituencies of five deputies each. The balance of 40 deputies could be elected on the same day on panels of eight from the country as a whole; in other words, all of those 40 deputies would have a mandate from the country as a whole – not from regional or county-based constituencies.
A rule that the taoiseach and, say, five ministers approved by the Dáil, must be from among the 40 deputies elected from the country as a whole, would ensure such a taoiseach and ministers would have a direct mandate from the people and could truly be said to be not only responsible to the Dáil but to the people. This would transform the sense of political responsibility and accountability of the leaders of a government.”
In short, his proposed new electoral system is a mixed-member system involving a lower tier of 5-seat STV constituencies and an upper, national tier electing the remaining 40 TDs. His proposal is that the Taoiseach and 5 ministers would have to come from the upper tier.
A few initial issue/questions spring to mind:
1.) For arguments sake, let’s assume he is proposing a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system (along the lines of Germany’s). If so, then the upshot of his proposal is that the Taoiseach and those privileged 5 ministers are more likely than not to be members of small, fringe parties; certainly Fianna Fail are likely to end up with few of these. This is because of the way that MMP has to operate in order to ensure a proportional result: namely, the less than proportional outcomes in the lower tier are ironed out/corrected by the more proportional upper tier.
With a district magnitude of 40 in the upper tier, this will make Ireland’s new electoral system one of the most proportional on the planet thereby ensuring that large numbers of those seats will be won by smaller parties. The only way to prevent this would be to impose a threshold rule on this tier — perhaps 5%.
2.) Will candidates be allowed to run for both tiers (as happens in Germany)? This protects the leading politicians especially from the larger party who, as list standard-bearers, may be precluded from taking their seat because the party has won too many STV seats. If so, then what is to stop all candidates from hedging their bets? Before we know it we could have a large proportion of the Dail consisting of what the Japanese (who use a variant of this system) refer to as ‘zombie’ politicians.
3.) Is the upper tier list closed or open? If the latter, then the candidates will need to chase personal votes — as happens at present in the STV system. If the former, then the candidates become beholden to the party selectorates thereby making them less secure, because they hold less of a direct mandate, and thus more likely to want eventually to jump into the STV tier where they are ensured their own power base. In short (and to repeat my comment in a previous post on Dan O’Brien’s proposals), plus ca change….