Friday 2 July 2010

Representation in Democracy (AV Modified is what the Con-Lib coalition needs)

AV Modified is what the Con-Lib coalition needs in order to provide what the Lib-Dems require and what both Conservative and Labour MPs can be persuaded to swallow.

1. The Con-Lib coalition is a wonderful expression of the character of our political traditions of compromise and practicality. We should all welcome it as a step on the road to re-enforce our representative democracy which has been smothered under adversarial ideologies fostered by the FPTP System. This Coalition-Government, unlike other governments for decades, is a majority government, elected and backed by 59 % of the voters. However it is based on a freak result that is unlikely to recur while FPTP rules in its present form. The adoption of AV will not only increase democratic representation but it could bring about much wider participation of the electorate from the recent low levels of around 60 per cent.

2. Most important of all is that together with Labour that has pledged to back a referendum on AV in its Manifesto, the proportion of the actual voters of the last election backing AV stands at 88 per cent representing the votes of the three big Parties. Therefore a referendum on AV becomes mandatory in this Parliament. The terms of this referendum and how it will operate however should be explained clearly in a simple and unambiguous manner to the public leaving no place for confusion. Only a single YES or NO answer to one clear question can be effective and can induce a majority of the public to participate.

3. A big advantage of AV over other systems is its flexibility; this makes it possible to introduce it gently without going against the grain of our traditions where the relationship of the MP to his/her constituents is sacrosanct. The British balk at revolution. AV provides the evolution which we all prefer. AV retains the FPTP System with its backbone of the Constituency. It simply modifies the FPTP slightly without drastically changing its essence. In addition if AV is applied wisely it can strengthen rather than weaken the status of Parliament and Parliamentarians, lying so low lately in the eyes of the public. Moreover by keeping the FPTP system intact, AV can preserve the stability of future governments. The doors for Hang Parliament is not open ajar.

4. For all these reasons it is imperative that while introducing AV we are careful not to disturb the way voters have been accustomed over the generations to cast their votes. Voters are used to vote with one X for one individual candidate that belongs to a party. Even an independent is deemed by the constituent voters as belonging to a one-member party. Changing that will result in even less participation as indeed happened at least in England both in the elections for the European Parliament and the London Mayor. If you ask a voter who represents him/her in either institution they will tell you which party but very rarely can an actual voter point out which elected individual represents him/her.

5. Some MPs and certainly many Conservatives consider AV in its present form as giving two votes to those who sticks to the traditional one ballot to choose one individual candidate. So how to proceed? The answer is simplicity itself. Instead of confusing the busy citizen with a list of candidates to choose one and grade the others in a long list of preferences the voter can choose his/her preferred candidate and his/her party as is the case today. If that specific vote doe not succeed in electing the Constituency MP “CMP” in a simple majority that vote goes to that candidate’s party and added together with such other unsuccessful votes nationwide to elect a limited number of Party MPs “PMP”. Say 100 PMPs or a 20 per cent of the present total MPs.

6. By substituting the long lists of graded preferences and passing on the unsuccessful votes to the candidate’s party, this version of AV gives some weight to the votes of unsuccessful candidates and brings fairness into the electoral process. AV in this modified version preserves the Westminster model of FPTP for the traditionalists and infuses it with a dose of PR to satisfy the innovators ensuring a greater representation. Thus AV in this way carries electoral reform without an upheaval.

7. This modification of AV is borrowed from another electoral system called TR Total Representation. (A brief summary of it can be found on : which is the Electoral Reform Society website. I urge all those interested in electoral reform to read it.) This modification of AV renders it more effective and useful if we really are serious at reforming our present system of FPTP.

8. The Lib-Dems’ zero option of “PR or nothing” kept them for decades as a protest party. And so they would have stayed after the recent elections. It is the failure of the Conservatives to gain those extra 20 seats that gave an unexpected opportunity to Nick Clegg. To his credit he exploited it to the full. Now a door is opened both to improve the Lib-Dems’s present and future influence in politics while reforming the electoral system for his party’s sake as well as that of the country. Politics is the art of the possible. A bird in hand is better than five on the tree. If the Lib-Dems push now for this version of AV and secure a YES vote in the referendum they can at least be sure of achieving a partial reform that both big parties could reluctantly swallow while giving the Lib-Dems the non-recurring chance to double their seats in the Commons. An AV simulation of the results of the recent elections that follows using this version of AV shows just that. It is based on re-calculating the figures from the real results.

9. AV needs one ballot paper with one vote. By retaining the votes cast for the unsuccessful candidates and using them to elect Party MPs, instead of throwing them to the dust bins, it secures direct representation to every vote cast albeit with different weighting, In this way AV injects a limited dose of PR into the system without destroying it. AV accommodate both Systems of FPTP and PR Proportional Representation in a form of co-habitation.

10. This version of AV requires all candidates (including those competing in Party Lists) to start off by running in the constituencies. It dispenses with long list ballot papers which mix party allegiances and confuse the busy citizen in the voting booth.

11. The PR element of AV 2010 gives an active role and leverage to the runners-up in the constituencies by keeping their hopes alive in between elections even in “safe seats” They are given a chance to compete for a PMP seat at any General Election depending on their level of support or wait for another round at the next. Thus AV converts the rival runner-ups into vigilant watch-dogs, monitoring the incumbent MPs and guaranteeing their constant accountability.

How AV 2010 works
12. AV in both versions, is a constituency-based system. For it to work properly, constituencies need to have roughly similar number of voters each to avoid gerrymandering. This is fair and indeed what David Cameron wants. The majority of seats in parliament, say 80%, will be awarded to the winners in simple majorities of these races, just as they are under the Westminster system today.

13. So each party puts up candidates for election in the various seats. Their names appear on the ballot paper in alphabetical order and next to each name is the party he or she represents. However, these candidates also appear on their own party’s national “list” of all its candidates headed by the party leader.

14. Voters go to the polls and put a cross against their preferred local candidate. Whoever wins a simple majority of the votes becomes that Constituency’s Member of Parliament (CMP) – again, just like today.

15. From then on, the innovations begin. All the “successful” ballots drop out. So if you voted for candidate X and candidate X wins, your ballot is judged to have already secured representation. As for the “unsuccessful” ballots (for example, if you voted for candidate Y, but candidate Y did not win in your constituency) these are placed in a giant nationwide pool – and it is from these unsuccessful votes that the remaining seats (20%) are decided using the PR method and awarded to the various parties to select Party Members of Parliament (PMPs)

16. These remaining seats are allocated proportionally amongst the parties according to a quota of a minimum number of required votes per seat. This is reached by dividing the nationwide number of “unsuccessful” votes by the number of the allocated seats of PMPs. Obviously in an 80/20 FPTP/ PR as recommended here the legitimacy and the status of the PMP is assured by the fact that he/she needs often 3 to 5 times as many party voters countrywide to be elected as that needed by the CMP in the constituency.

17. Unlike in other list-based systems, the way these seats are awarded depends crucially on how the candidates performed in their constituencies. The party leader – if failed to secure a CMP seat directly–should automatically be allocated the first PMP seat secured by that Leader’s Party to avoid disrupting the party in the wake of a general election. All the other PMP seats available to each Party are awarded in priority to the highest scorers of that Party’s Candidates in the Constituencies in the early First-Past-The-Post part of the election. They are most likely also to be the strongest runners-up in their constituencies. Their number in each party depends on the number of votes nationwide that their respective parties gain. Everything therefore depends on the number of votes each potential PMP candidate and his/her party secures.

Arguments in Support of AV(2010)
- Each voter is required to cast only one ballot.
- No votes are “wasted”, with most going on to secure at least some level of representation, albeit with different weightings.
- Its PR element is relatively simple to understand and easy to operate
- All MPs would have to start off as constituency candidates, and all votes are worth fighting for even in “safe seats” because there is a potential prize also for coming second.
- It gives minority views the chance of a voice in parliament without giving them undue influence, because the system is still weighted heavily towards First-Past-The-Post.

Arguments against AV (2010)
- It creates two “classes” of MPs (CMP and PMP) However unlike in other such systems, most of the “Party” MPs would also have to score at least second in their constituencies and therefore would continue to retain a close link with the constituency waiting for the next opportunity notwithstanding the fact that they don’t serve as constituency MPs.
- The centre of the duties of the CMP is the constituency, that of the PMP is to add strength to the Party in Parliament while preparing for the next round of elections.
- All existing constituency boundaries would have to be redrawn periodically (as the case is now) but more to ensure similar and comparable sizes of the number of the electorate in all constituencies in line with the Conservatives’ thinking.

Friday 26 March 2010

Israel Arab Conflict (Post Annapolis)

Three years post Annapolis, the solution remains the same - unilateral disengagement.

In my article of 15 Dec 2007 on Annapolis I concluded:
The leaderships of the two main protagonists of Annapolis are too weak to deliver an agreement; but of the two, it is the fragmentation of the Arab side that will eventually scupper any possible resolution.
So what is left for Israel to do when this year [2007] passes without conclusion? The answer is to be prepared to declare that it would implement withdrawal from the West Bank unilaterally along the lines and spirit of the agreement reached by president Bush and Prime Minister Sharon as embodied in their exchange of letter of 14th April 2004 and take immediate steps to implement them. The majority of Israelis, including Israeli Arabs, will support that move. And so will the electorate if a general election or referendum is called.

With Sharon sadly incapacitated it was left to Ehud Olmert to lead Kadima in a General Election. His Manifesto centred around the Peace Process. He won on that basis and therefore had a mandate, indeed an obligation to do just that. But the Lebanon War, the lack of support from Tsipi Livni and the misguided subsequent Vinograd Commission sapped all his strength. Actions and reactions by politicians and media were taken over by form of words rather than substance of contents. Olmert nevertheless battled bravely to the last minute of his tenure with tenacity and single mindedness. At the end with “et tu Brute” behaviour of Ehud Barak joining the cabal and a legal indictment hanging over his head, he was left with no choice but to leave it to Tsipi Livni to take over. She failed to form a government and led the country into another divisive general election at the end of which she failed yet again to form a government. Livni’s frontal attack on Shas paradoxically gave a golden opportunity to a defunct Likud to revive and lead the extreme Right. Sharon’s Kadima lost its Sharon’s central ground and moved to the Left. And the real victim of all this Byzantine politics was of course the peace process. So another three years passed of paralysis of the leaderships of both sides and the sufferings of their ordinary citizens

What Now?
Since then another war in Gaza; and more bereaved and more orphans on both sides. Israel’s image in the world, unjustifiably and unjustly, has been left tarnished. We are weary, the Arabs are weary and America is exasperated. We lost a big chance handed to us by President Bush and our good friend Condoleezza Rice. And that was when Binyamin Netanyahu took the wrong decision at the time by opposing, indeed sabotaging, instead of embracing Sharons’ policy of unilateral disengagement first from Gaza and then from the un-defendable parts of the West Bank. Sadly for him, and unfortunate for us, Sharon is unable any more to help guide us to see the light which could lead us to the end of a tunnel we have been stuck in since the end of the Six-Day War. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak failed separately in the past to broker peace for us. Would they jointly now achieve a breakthrough? It looks doubtful. However a new hope appears on the horizon: The Mofaz Plan. With politics paralysed as a result of a dysfunctional system of government and with Prime Minister Netanyahu tossed around by a chaotic coalition with a non existent sense of collective responsibility, he is unable to pursue a cohesive policy for peace. He is letting the Israeli media and daily events inside and outside the country buffet him and dictate his moves. Democracy, and certainly representative and participatory democracy, has become a misnomer in Israel. The Knesset is becoming the laughing stock of the Israeli public.

It is at this juncture that MK Shaul Mofaz, an ex Chief of Staff and a former Minister of Defence under Sharon, boldly went public on November 11, 2009 with his Plan. He proposed to move in two phases to a peace agreement with the Palestinians with the immediate establishment of an independent disarmed Palestinian state in the West Bank and in Gaza, preempting a possible move by the Arabs while simultaneously engaging in direct dialogue, State to State, with the Palestinians on the final status issues. He says (and his words are paraphrazed below):
I believe that a permanent Palestinian state with temporary borders and simultaneous negotiations on the core issues: borders, refugees and Jerusalem, will allow us to rebuild the trust between the two sides, and totally change the atmosphere in our region. In this process, we must have the support of the moderate Arab countries, the European countries and the leadership of the United States.
The second phase of my plan would be the implementation of the agreements reached between the two sides on the final status issues.
Before implementing final status agreements, the Palestinians must provide a clear statement about the end to demands and end to the conflict. We have to build a mechanism for potential mediation if gaps still exist between the two sides; and I call for a referendum in Israel to approve what was achieved during the negotiations on the core issues before implementing the second phase. I have full confidence that the moment the Prime Minister of Israel adopts this plan, and the moment the President of the U.S. approves of it as the right direction to move forward, we will be able to achieve an agreement.
And then Mofaz added remarkably that in certain conditions he would talk with Hamas and that if they are elected subsequently by the Palestinians he would have no problem in dealing with them as the legitimate government.

It is important to read his statement and interviews in full. It still needs some modifications and adjustments esprcially with regard to Gaza. But here is a policy and here is a man who can move it forward. This is the voice of Mofaz and the hand of Sharon. We better listen to this Plan coming from a statesman with impeccable credentials, integrity and authority. He reiterated since then that with neither Prime Minister Netanyahu nor the Leader of the Opposition, Tsipi Livni, following a clear declared policy he finds himself unable to support either. But he emphasised that he is prepared to support one or other or both if they come up with a clear declared policy. Naturally he favours the general lines of his Plan, but he did not say that they are set in stone.

And turning to the paralysis of the body politics in Israel that is preventing both Government and Opposition to act decisively Mofaz wisely added recently a second proviso for his support. That is a clear, well defined reform of the electoral system that could lead to a stable government and a true representative democracy.

Mofaz did not specify his position on Jerusalem wisely leaving it vague. I believe the problems of Jerusalem are not insurmountable and in this context it is folly to ignore the views of Meir Shetreet and Haim Ramon who both served under Olmert. The Arab villages around Jerusalem were never part of historic Jerusalem notwithstanding their inclusion within the Municipal Borders of the Capital today. Moreover it is important to remember that even Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, the Spiritual Mentor of Shas Party might, when the chips are down, opt for sparing Jewish Life over adding Jewish Land when confronted with seeking a painful balance between the two. He expressed such views at the time of the evacuation of Gaza.

And finally in dealing with all this it is important not to get swept overboard by the recent episode of the meeting in the White House of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. It will prove to be an insignificant passing cloud. Obama is a friend of Israel but he is also the President of the United States and leader of the free world. We err if we try to read into the way that meeting was conducted a sudden change of US policy. There are deep and enduring mutual interests between the two countries which have solid strategic basis. The analysis of the different sides including the US to the Arab Israeli Conflict in my article of 2007 has not altered. Geography and demography don’t change overnight. But it is important that we move swiftly to help reduce tension with our strongest ally and the best way to do that may lie in the Mofaz Plan.

Aharon Nathan, 26th March 2010