Monday 1 October 2001

Representation in Democracy (Total Representation ‘TR’)

A New Electoral System for Modern Times.
Total Representation (‘TR’) is based on the premise that every single vote cast in elections has to end up with some representation in parliament, whether directly or indirectly.

It avoids the most serious defect of the First-Past-the-Post System, under which votes cast for the successful candidate are represented in parliament, while all the rest of the votes i.e. those cast for the unsuccessful candidates (which may be more than 50 per cent of the total in some constituencies) are left unrepresented.
The Proportional Representation System “PR” on the other hand does allow representation to all votes cast and gives them equal weight, but it encourages small political parties and splinter groups, resulting in weak coalition governments, where factional rather than national interests take over.

‘TR’ offers a solution, by combining the positive elements of both systems, PR and first-past-the-post.

In order to implement ‘TR’, parliaments would have two classes of MPs who would be equal in every way save for the manner by which they were elected. One class would be the Constituency MPs (CMPs) who would be elected on a constituency, first-past-the-post basis, exactly as they are today in the UK. They would continue to fulfil their duties and obligations towards all their constituents, dealing with individual problems and grievances at meetings and surgeries. The other class, Party MPs (PMPs) would be elected by pooling all the votes cast for the unsuccessful candidates in the constituencies and dividing them proportionally among the parties, who would announce before the election the lists of all their constituency candidates in order of priority.

For ‘TR’ to succeed in its objective, the ratio between the number of Constituency MPs (CMPs) and the Party MPs (PMPs) is crucial. I believe this ratio should be around 80:20 (or 75:25) in favour of the CMPs. This numerical ratio ensures the strength of the CMPs in parliament and consequently a degree of government stability, backed by the majority party in parliament. And, just as important, it keeps the direct bond between individual MPs and their constituencies. The 20 per cent of PMPs on the other hand ensure the existence of a built-in opposition in parliament backed by representation, so that the voices of minority interests are heard speaking with authority on the floor of parliament.
This would be the case even if one party were to win all the constituencies: the majority party would secure 80 per cent of the seats, but that would still leave 20 per cent of the seats for the opposition parties. This built-in opposition, which lies at the heart of any democratic, open society, based on real representative democracy, should help to counter to some extent the ‘tyranny of the majority’ that John Stuart Mill warned against. Once this built-in opposition is safeguarded, the more the ratio is moved towards, say, 60:40 the more the system tilts towards PR with all its disadvantages.

It is important when talking about rights, freedoms and justice in an open society to bear in mind that all these concepts revolve around the idea of vibrant social dissent or opposition of one kind or another, whose existence is essential and whose legitimacy has to be recognized and respected by all sections of the community.

The concept of opposition in general, and political opposition in particular, is the kernel at the core of an ‘Open Society’. It is the door through which changes find their way to transform society. Its absence renders a society ‘closed’ and backward looking. Political structures therefore should contain such a kernel, institutionalized as an integral part of their structure. This kernel must have the freedom to grow or wither away within its wider social context. This is what the ‘Open Society’ is about. And yet this does not mean automatically that ‘opposition’ is there merely as a permanent obstacle to the way the majority of a community wants to govern itself. Permanent representation for the opposition must be, and traditionally has been in the UK, at the heart of representative democracy in order to fulfil its function. Hence the concept of ‘Her Majesty’s Opposition’ in the Westminster parliament, which to outsiders looks like a quaint, contradictory expression of British eccentricity, is in fact an essential ingredient of the UK’s tolerant constitutional arrangement. We should therefore not visualize the concepts of majority and minority as two inherently static, adversarial sections of the political structure. Rather we should see them as parts of the same community, stimulating each other in a permanent ebb and flow of movement and change.

How ‘TR’ Works?

To implement ‘TR’, the country would be divided into electoral constituencies, as is the case in the UK today. Candidates would be fielded within the constituencies either as party nominees or as independents. The votes cast for the successful first-past-the-post candidates would gain their representation through the newly elected CMPs. The votes cast for all the unsuccessful candidates in all the constituencies would be pooled together and distributed proportionally among the unsuccessful candidates to elect the PMPs of the various Parties (Lists) that have fielded or sponsored them as candidates in the constituencies in the first place. Therefore all MPs (CMPs and PMPs) would have started as candidates in the constituencies whether sponsored by national parties or by independent groups.
This is a crucial element of ‘TR’. Unlike pure PR (Proportional Representation), in ‘TR’ the bond between the constituency voters and their chosen candidates are preserved and would probably survive even when a candidate failed to secure a CMP seat. Such unsuccessful constituency candidates would be heartened by the knowledge that they might end up as PMPs, if not in that very general election then in a future one. So ‘TR’ would encourage high calibre candidates to offer themselves in what today are considered un-winnable constituencies.

The merits of ‘TR’ are clear: the system is simple to operate and easy to understand. Voters continue to vote for a single candidate in their local constituency. But, most importantly, ‘TR’ modifies the first-past-the-post element of the constituency system with its failed candidates and wasted votes that have contributed to the apathy among UK voters.

‘TR’ as outlined above can be adapted and modified for any democracy but especially for emerging democracies or old democracies with changed circumstances. In fact, when examined closely it is a system which can be applied in any country and to any democracy. It is a ‘fits all’ system.

I have written separately brief proposals on the practical applications of ‘TR’ to the prevailing political circumstances in the UK (especially with regard to the House of Lords) and Israel (with regard to its parliament, the Knesset). These are the two countries I know well and whose political developments I have been watching closely for half a century. It is especially interesting to examine these two applications, as they would be approaching ‘TR’ from opposite directions – the UK moving from constituency-based, First-Past-the-Post System to ‘TR’ and Israel from Proportional Representation “PR” to ‘TR’.

Aharon Nathan, October 2001

Friday 1 June 2001

Israel Arab Conflict (Peace Objectives)

Peace - Objectives and the means to achieve them.

1. Time to think the unthinkable and come up with a bold approach based on fundamentals and not on preconceived prejudices and entrenched positions.

2. Unlike Christian or Muslim countries Israel can not be treated in isolation from the Jewish people worldwide. After what happened in Europe, Jews believe that defeat of Israel means annihilation. Israel is all the Jewish People’s refuge of last resort.

3. Lasting Peace is not a matter of goodwill. It lasts only if it is based on absence of potential future conflicts on the ground.

4. Only maximum defensible real SEPARATION of Israel and Palestine on the ground will work. Last 8 months killings and the recent outrages make separation mandatory.

5. GAZA is the core of the problem. Its population has to be reduced to its original inhabitants to be a viable entity. Its refugees have to be resettled in the West Bank, in Arab Countries including sparsely populated labour hungry Gulf and in Continental Europe. Otherwise it will always be a pressure cooker waiting to explode.

6. Jerusalem has to be divided into Jerusalem Capital of Israel and Al - Quds Capital of New Palestine - Twin Cities with clear SEPARATION between the two. Without this no peace will survive.

7. Arab inhabitants in Jerusalem (those who were annexed after 6 Day War) should revert to Palestine citizenship but can live as residents in Jerusalem if their residence falls within Israeli Jerusalem.

8. Likewise Jews who choose to stay in Al - Quds can retain their Israeli citizenship but continue to live as residents in Palestine subject to its laws after a period of protection by Israel.

9. Similar status should apply (after a period of protection by Israel army) to all Israelis who choose to stay in New Palestine. This includes the Jewish enclave in Hebron. The same arrangement should be accorded to any Jewish settlement which falls within the borders of Palestine.

10. Media/TV wars are nowadays taking precedence to Diplomacy and conventional wars. Israel is failing to use its many cards and moral weapons in this field to the dismay and utter frustration of its friends in the World.

11. Above suggested solutions lead to stability on the ground and are to the mutual benefit and future advantage of Israel, Palestine the Middle East and beyond. They have to be portrayed and CAN BE portrayed with sincerity and conviction as such.

12. Yasser Arafat is not in control. Hamas has to be brought directly into any negotiation for an enduring settlement. If either or both do not accept this scheme Israel should unilaterally implement it.

Aharon Nathan, June 2001

Thursday 31 May 2001

About Aharon Nathan

Aharon Nathan was born in Iraq in 1931 and moved to Israel in 1949. In 1953 he was appointed Senior Assistant Advisor both under Prime Ministers, Ben Gurion and Moshe Sharett. In that capacity he was secretary to the standing committee of the security services in the Arab sector under the chairmanship of the Chief Advisor Shmuel Divon.

In 1955 he was appointed by Ben Gurion to the Yohanan Rattner’s Commission on Military Government which laid the basis of future administrations of Arab areas in Israel, and post 1967, in the occupied territories. In 1956 he was Secretary to Judge Azulai’s fact finding Commission on Kafr Qasim which drew the distinction between lawful and unlawful orders for future engagement rules of the Israel Defence Forces.

In the Suez War (1956) he was Deputy Military Governor (to Brig. Mati Peled). He set up and headed the first civil administration in the Gaza Strip. In the 60's he was in charge of integrating the Arab workers as full members of the Histadrut Trade Union. In the 6-Day War (1967) he served in the Golan Heights. In 1970 he left the civil service to pursue a career in business and travelled extensively in the Far East and East Europe. In 2005 he was appointed by the President of Israel to the Commission to examine the government and governance of the country. At the same time he joined the board of governors of CECI (the Centre of the Empowerment of the Citizens in Israel) He holds degrees from the Hebrew University and Oxford.