Sun, Jun 08, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Reform of the voting system is a challenge

By Wang Yeh-lih 王業立

On May 26, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) issued a proposal for changing the constitutional system, saying that the number of legislative seats should be increased, especially the number of legislator-at-large seats.

She proposed that the current mixed-member majoritarian system (MMM) should be replaced with a mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) system that originated in Germany and has since been adopted by other countries. She also proposed that the threshold required for entry into the legislature be lowered to allow smaller political parties to win legislative seats.

The question of whether to keep MMM or adopt the MMP system was a key issue when the fourth constitutional amendment was debated in 1997. At that time, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the DPP failed to reach a consensus because the KMT supported an MMM system, while the DPP supported an MMP system. Neither proposal passed, since neither party was able to gain the required two-thirds majority.

In the 2001 legislative election, the DPP became the dominant party in the legislature, although none of the three parties in the legislature at the time managed to gain an absolute majority. It was only then that the party began to shift toward supporting an MMM system. With support from both the KMT and DPP, the legislature then proposed a constitutional amendment in 2004, and in 2005, the ad hoc National Assembly passed an MMM-style “single electoral district, two-vote system” and cut the number of legislative seats by half. This system was then implemented in the 2008 and 2012 legislative elections.

However, the MMP system has caused considerable controversy in Germany since its adoption, over such issues as the calculation of the electoral quota — a divisor which determines the number of seats to be allocated to the party list — and the percentage threshold that is necessary for a party to gain representation. The greatest controversy, however, lies in the problem of overhang seats. In the MMP system, when a party wins more constituencies than it would be entitled to based on its share of the total vote, it is granted the extra seat or seats, and these are referred to as overhang seats.

The problem of overhang seats was deemed by the German Federal Constitutional Court in 2008 to be a violation of the principle of fair and direct elections, as well as to the principle of equal opportunity for parties stated in the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany in 2012.

As a result, the German parliament, the Bundestag, amended the electoral system in 2011 and 2013, and the parties in the Bundestag reached a compromise, adopting a complex mechanism aimed at balancing the number of seats in order to comply with the directions the constitutional court gave them. The result was a large increase in the number of representatives from the original 598 seats to 631 seats in the election of October last year, but this increased the number of overhang seats to an unprecedented 33 seats. This caused even more controversy and public anger and more constitutional lawsuits may be unavoidable in the future.

The MMP system adopted by Germany is indeed good at matching the proportional allotment of a party’s seats to the proportion of votes won, but as Tsai has proposed to adopt an MMP system, this raises the question of how she is going to resolve the problem of overhang seats.

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