Debate of voting system change in the last western developed countries still employing single member plurality voting that is Canada, Britain, and the United States; perpetually revolve to the supposedly catastrophic experience with PR in Italy and Israel at some point. It is supposedly since the catastrophe is characteristically emphasized, devoid of benefit of information, scrutiny, or chronological background. This replicates both the prejudice of political elite and their unawareness of other countries and other voting systems. Neither has academic critics been without such prejudice. If we traced the connection linking English-language articles critical of PR and a talk about of Israel, we would discover a strong connection (Carty, 2002, p.927). So widespread is the incantation of these two nations that anybody barely familiar with the theme of electoral reform is almost certainly very familiar with the fundamental grievances. PR as employed in Israel is responsible for generating political volatility, insensitive governments, and over-powerful parties, predominantly minor ones. That these denigrations are unjust can be willingly established. However, the predicament here is not purely one of unawareness.
There are two basic ways of determining electoral results: first-past-the-post and proportional representation. First-past-the-post is the British and American way. From Britain, it spread to all the former dependencies of the British Empire. It is a solid system in that it makes the elected representative of a constituency inescapably responsible for his voting record. Every time there is an election, the representative or the parliamentarian has to go back to his electors and convince them that he, mainly as an individual, although party performance also affects public perception, deserves to be re-elected. In the first-by-the-post system, you would have to be in a land of utter ignoramuses to get away with malfeasance in office (Schwartzberg, 2002).
As not all voters are created equal, the first-past-the-post system is vulnerable to special pleading, especially by campaign financiers. It has also against it that through gerrymandering, or the redrawing of congressional or parliamentary districts or constituencies, it can be made to distort over-all electoral results, so that, in theory, it becomes likely that representation will not reflect public opinion. In America, it is the electoral-college system, which carries the first-past-the-post principle to unconscionable extremes. It has allowed presidential candidates on four occasions to reach the presidency with a minority of votes (see The American business cycle and electoral results). In Britain, the Conservative or Labourite bent of regional electorates causes the disregard of many millions of votes.
The usual way that first-past-the-post idiosyncrasies are corrected is through proportional representation, through which places in parliaments are allotted according to party election results. This sort of system, though seemingly fair, makes representatives more accountable to the parties that choose them than to the electorates, who vote for the party rather than for the candidate. Under proportional representation, in principle, even in a land of acute political observers, you could get away with murder and be re-elected if a party was willing to back you. The trend in the world's democracies, except where first-past-the-post is entrenched, is for a combination in which first-past-the-post is the basic system but minority votes in every constituency are toted up and assigned proportionally to parties, which fulfil a minimum-requirement of popular support. In Venezuela, perhaps the world's worst performing true democracy, proportional representation in practice divided the country into party chiefdoms. There indeed it was the case that, whatever else you did as long as you did the party's bidding, you were assured of re-election. It was the essence of clientelism.
There is another potentially big flaw in proportional representation and that is where the electorate is fissured in many different ways, such as happens in Israel. One would imagine that a state that was formed for a people that claims affiliation to one religion and descent from one ancient tribe would tend towards social and political homogeneity, but that is not the way things have turned out in Israel, partly because of the Diaspora, partly because Jews can be Jews without actually being observant Jews.
To start with, "ethnicity" was always important in Israeli elections. Here again, you could ask: what "ethnicity" since Jews claim they are a people and they share a religion that informs all aspects of life? There existed three early "ethnic" trends: the Azkenasim, or the Jews of central and eastern Europe, speakers of Yiddish (a German dialect); the Sephardim, the Jews of the Mediterranean, speakers of Spanish and other languages; and the Sabra, or Jews native to Palestine, who learned to speak Hebrew. With the adoption of Hebrew and the passing of various generations, the Sabras are no longer a recognizable ethnic entity. The separation between Azkenasim and Sephardim still exists. Jews are also divided religiously. Some are agnostics or atheists, some are reformists or modernists, and some are Orthodox or fundamentalist. Within the Orthodox, there are various groups animated by charismatic religious figures or followers of certain special traditions. An ultra-Orthodox sect was against the existence of the state of Israel. These Orthodox Jewish sects are agreed only on their hatred of Jews who do not observe the Sabbath strictly, which happens to be the case of the majority of Israelis.
However, the complexity does not stop there. During the 1970s and the 1980s, some Russian Jews began agitating to be allowed to emigrate from the USSR because they were a persecuted minority (Boix, 1999, p.609). The degree of persecution of Jews in Russia is a debateable issue. They were certainly persecuted in The Pale before World War I. In the last few years of Stalin, there were signs of official support for anti-Semitism. However, despite the millions of Jews that immigrated from the Pale mostly to America and even with the great Jewish migration from the USSR, due to natural reproduction there are probably still more Jews in Russia than those that originally emigrated. The Jews that emigrated under the USSR also alleged that, after all, there was a Jewish state they could go to so they could not be considered state-less refugees. Many, perhaps a majority, ended up in America as technically refugees. However, quite a large number did settle in Israel and they represent a considerable political force with its own party or parties. These fissures in Israeli society were not at first very compulsive and there were three main political trends: the Labor Party (Mapai), which was the strongest force at the creation of Israel; Likud, which was the "conservative" opposition to Labor; and Orthodox Jews, who have always been around, always as a tiny and fragmented political minority.
Politics in Israel, as elsewhere, is about power, but in Israel, it often seems to be about sharing power and about nothing else. At first, there was no challenging Labor. However, Labor had a laid-back attitude towards Palestinians, as exemplified by Moshe Dayan, and the Likud anti-Palestinian view gradually gained ground. Ironically, Menachem Begin, the first Likud prime minister and a former terrorist, was also the man who signed the peace with Egypt. This, and the death of his wife, depressed him so much that he left politics and soon died. Begin's electoral success opened the sluice gates and anti-Palestinian militancy became so much a part of the Israeli political scene that Labor was partially sucked in (Kolesar, 1996, p.12).
With the relative prevalence of anti-Palestinian attitudes, resulting in a consensus of sorts on the one issue that should have been a crucial theme of debate, Israeli politics became almost exclusively about manoeuvring for political advantages. The Israeli electoral system was made meticulously proportional, because, despite Israel's secularist, collectivist roots, Judaic Orthodoxy has always been considered to have a special place in society, partly out of respect for tradition, partly because of the stridency of Orthodox Jews themselves. As Orthodox Jews were numerically insignificant, it was necessary to lower requirements for representation in the Knesset. (Conversely, which is another minus on Israeli democracy; Israeli Arabs have a quota of representatives, which does not correspond to the fifth of the population of Israel that they constitute.)
This mania for proportionality, combined with the general tendency in Israeli society away from accommodation with Palestinians, has resulted in that the Palestinian problem is, by some accounts, no longer an electoral issue, which is as if you were certifying as extremely healthy a person with obvious symptoms of some deforming disease. Israeli politics contain an element of extreme radicalism that may not be a true reflection of Israeli public opinion. In Israel proportional representation, which is usually invoked as a corrective for electoral unfairness, has been skewed towards virulent and unrepresentative extremism.
If democracy has not contributed significantly to economic growth in developing countries1, if it can be used to impose a political agenda that voters did not approve in America2, and if it is a means for obstructing a peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue, then there are grounds for claiming that democracy is going at present through what appears to be a crisis (Rosenbaum, 2004, p.25). This is not to say that democracy is a failure or that there is a substitute for democracy.
Democracy is still the best means not only for governance but especially to mend the ways of democracy itself. But as long as democracy impedes rather than encourages world peace, there will be grounds for arguing that democracy is not quite what it is stacked up to be. Such being the case, the Chinese way to development, in which democracy is mostly democratic-sounding noises will seem like a respectable option. And Russia's penchant for authoritarianism will also have a sound historical justification. If there is indeed a crisis of democracy, therefore, it is not because of democracy per se, but because of things that democracies, and America in particular, are not getting right(Caron,1999,p. 22).
The British electoral structure is rooted on the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system. In current years, restructurings have happened in places for example Northern Ireland where a type of proportional representation has been employed in elections and in the decentralization elections surrounding Scotland and Wales. Conversely, for the most part, Britain has employed the attempted and experienced FPTP system. Previously, this structure and the whole system of elections produced ridiculous irregularities with the continuation of decayed boroughs for example, Dunwich, Old Sarum, and Gatton. Old Sarum was by local considering "one man, two cows, and a field" and yet took back two MP’s to Westminster! Gatton, a rural community in Surrey, took back one MP yet had only one elector in it. The 1832, 1867 and 1884 Reform Acts transformed many of the extra ridiculous misuses that bounded the electoral structure so vibrantly portrayed by Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers. Conversely, the theory of FPTP was reserved (McDonald, 2002, p.23).
In an ordinary British general election or by-election that is exclusive of the newer formats that have been employed in current regional elections for decentralization, those who desire to fight an election register doing so. When the election happens, for instance a by-election for a constituency for example MP for Westminster, the individual who triumphs with the maximum number of votes inside that constituency, prevails in that election. FPTP is as obvious and as cruel as that.
Barely in the very uncommonness of cases has a re-count been ordered owing to the nearness of that explicit result, but in the enormous preponderance of cases, FPTP permits for an obvious winner. As an illustration for instance, a by-election for the borough of a similar Make-Up: the three major candidates are as of the three most famous nationwide parties. The results are:
Candidate A (Labour) 22000 Votes
Candidate B (Tory): 17,000 votes
Candidate C (Lib Dems): 13,000 votes
(Matland and Donley, 1996, p.707)
In this instance, the obvious winner is candidate A with preponderance over Candidate B of 5,000. FPTP is an inexpensive and straightforward means to hold an election as every voter just has to put one cross on the ballot paper. Counting of the ballot papers is frequently quick and the outcome of a British general election is typically known the next day after polling. The swiftness of the process frequently permits for a novel government to capture power quickly or if the in office government triumphs the general election, permits for a speedy return for the continuance of government devoid of too many disturbances to the political life of the country.
FPTP has produced within Great Britain a political structure that is fundamentally steady as politics is subjugated by merely two parties. The disorders of the political systems of Israel are shunned by using FPTP. Marginal governments have transpired in the UK using FPTP; however, the life spans of those administrations were restricted. In current years, administrations have been strong because of the apparent authorization given to it by means of the FPTP system.
In a constituency, one MP is chosen and consequently, the individuals of that constituency will be acquainted with whom to enquire or hunt for if they have a question. In a multi-member constituency, in which numerous parties are embodied, this would not be as simple. As the above illustration demonstrates, FPTP queries the entire subject of democratic elections in that the popular will of the people inside one constituency may be revealed in the electoral result (Hiemstra and Harold, 2002, p.292).
In the illustration above, 22,000 selected the contender that triumphed that election nevertheless 30,000 voted in opposition to the champion. In current years, general or by-elections have commonly thrown up the occurrence of the champion having more individuals vote against him/her. Consequently, that winner cannot announce to have the popular support of the individuals inside the whole constituency concerned. Consequently, the entire popular authorization for the winner does not subsist. A counter-argument not in favour of this is that one of the superseding beliefs in democracy is that the victor ought to be acknowledged by all and the losers ought to have their apprehensions listened to by the triumphant party.
This is true at the nationwide level. If the state government does not have the popularity of the nation at the back of it as articulated in the concluding votes for that government, it cannot assert to symbolize the individuals of that nation. In 1951 (Tory) and in February 1974 (Labour), the country voted in regimes that had less individuals vote for them however won more seats than their antagonists. Neither administration could allege to symbolize the nation. In addition, in the 1997 election, the triumphant Labour Party achieved 43.2% of the total votes shed and won 63.6% of seats at Westminster. The collective number of votes for both the Tory and Liberal Democrats signified 47.5% of the entire votes that is virtually 4% more than Labour, yet between them they acquired 32.1% of the seats existing at Westminster. The same inclination was seen with the 2001 election and 2005-election outcomes. It can be asserted that such a proportion of votes ought not to have provided the Labour party with such large Parliamentary majorities; however, the works of the FPTP structure permits for merely such an incidence. In actuality, no administration since 1935 has had a popularity of public support as articulated via votes cast at a nationwide election. Lord Hailsham previously referred to this coordination as an elective dictatorship since a prevailing administration can be fashioned with irresistible Parliamentary power, which can typically push through its requisite legislation, however with merely a minority of the nation backing it (Barker, 2002, pp. 304-312).
The occurrence of radical parties in nations for example Israel, which is determined by excessive circumstances on the ground, depicts a feeble link in the PR structure. Conversely, according to the analyst, in more steady countries for instance Britain there would seem less probability of such hitches arising because of adopting PR as a voting model.
The views of an apparently inequitable result to the vote in Britain are reasonably causing apprehension to many voters. However, as Israelis are acquainted with all too well, a reactive rush to hold untainted proportional representation can cause an evenly burdened and irritable system. If any key alterations are to happen in the British electoral process, a model, which mixes the two kinds of voting, appears a far safer bet than an impetuous dash to the other end of the continuum.
Barker, Paul. (2002) “Voting for Trouble” in Mark Charlton and Paul Barker (Eds), Crosscurrents: Contemporary Political Issues fourth Ed, pp. 304-312.
Boix, Carles. (1999) “Setting the Rules of the Game: The Choice of Electoral Systems in Advanced Democracies” The American Political Science Review, 93.3: 609-624.
Caron, Jean-François. (1999). “The End of the First-Past-the Post Electoral System?” Canadian Parliamentary Review, 22.3, 19-22.
Carty, R. K. (2002) “Canada” European Journal of Political Research 41, 7-8, 927-930.
Hiemstra, John L., and Harold J. Jansen.(2002) “Getting What You Vote For.” in Mark Charlton and Paul Barker (ends), Crosscurrents: Contemporary Political Issues, 4th Ed, , pp. 292-303.
Kolesar, Robert J. (1996-04-20). "Communism, Race, and the Defeat of Proportional Representation in Cold War America". Massachusetts: Mount Holyoke College. 12.
McDonald, Dr. Michael. (2002)"United States Election Project > Voter Turnout". Fairfax, VA: George Mason University, 12
Matland, Richard E., and Donley T. Studlar. (1996) “The Contagion of Women Candidates in Single-Member District and Proportional Representation Electoral Systems: Canada and Norway” The Journal of Politics 58.3, 707-733.
Rosenbaum, David E. (2004-02-24). "THE 2004 CAMPAIGN: THE INDEPENDENT; Relax, Nader Advises Alarmed Democrats, but the 2000 Math Counsels Otherwise". New York Times.p.25
Schwartzberg, Joseph E. (September 2002). "Creating a World Parliamentary Assembly". Washington, DC: World Federalist Institute.