MPs do not effectively represent the people because the system has been warped

MPs do not effectively represent the people because the system has been warped

Dear Editor,

I write in response to the letter captioned `MPs have to begin representing the people’ (SN 15/11/2020). I also took time to – for better or worse – read the comments generated to that letter, and while there were a few gems of thought there, I will confine myself to the actual letter itself, without attributing any prejudice – good or bad – for the author. I must also say that as a young Guyanese, we are often discounted when we contribute to topics such as these, since it seems that contrary to the popular slogan ‘youths are the future’ many still think we ought to be seen and not heard. Nevertheless I will offer the following contribution on the topic.

Editor, the author of that letter is absolutely correct in that MPs must represent the people. Our proportional representation (PR) system as it currently stands is not conducive to the needs of constituency representation – either on paper or in practice. It is worth remembering that we did not always have PR. In the period from universal adult suffrage in British Guiana until 1964 we had the First Past The Post (FPTP) system, which is common in most of our Commonwealth Caribbean states, in addition to places such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, etc.

While FPTP is indeed more conducive to constituency representation, it is no more or less a winner take all system than PR. The Grenada 2018 and Barbados 2018 elections where the winning party secured 100% of the elected seats while gaining 58% and 73% of the votes respectively highlights the inherent flaw in this system. Both legislatures after these elections lacked an Opposition Leader as there was no parliamentary opposition, and in both their Heads of State were unable to appoint opposition Senators. With one MP in Barbados becoming an independent MP this was remedied to a point in that it allowed the appointment of an Opposition Leader and subsequently opposition Senators.

In Guyana, our MPs do not effectively represent the people simply because the system has been warped in such a way that, in all honesty, we can’t call our system Westminster anymore. In fact the only tangible remnants of the Westminster system in Guyana is that the opposition sits to the Speaker’s left with the government to the right, and the Ministers being members (elected and non-elected) of the house. What Guyana needs is a mixed system which accounts for proportional support which would not shut out small parties in the legislature, and directly elected constituency MPs which would make it more difficult for an MP to say to a constituent that they ‘won’t get involved’.

As an example, let’s keep the current 40-25 split in the 65 seat house. Firstly there would have to be 25 constituencies which would need to be demarcated to ensure that each constituency has a similar population number as possible (a key feature of constituency systems). Voters would vote for their list choice to determine the proportionality of the 40 seats, but when it comes to the 25, voters will choose their candidate in their respective constituency. This means that in a particular constituency, a candidate (party or independent) lives in that constituency, their name appears on the ballot for that constituency, and if they resign they are replaced by a vote in their constituency. I am very cognizant that this is a simplification of the process, but there are places and evidence where this does work.

Editor, having a system which mixes a proportional vote share with a constituency representative will go far in ensuring that MPs will finally understand that their selection for parliament isn’t automatic anymore. Right now the system is automatic, out of control of the people being represented, and unrepresentative. When you have our current system where Geographical MPs for the most part do not even come from those communities, how representative is that? When they do not even have Constituency offices in these Geographical areas to hear the people’s concerns, how representative is that?

In closing (because, if continued, this will be more of a thesis than a letter to the editor), while it is easy to think of solutions such as these for our parliament and our democratic processes, the biggest hurdle is our mind-set and political will. Many will follow party lines regardless of what the process is, and it is evident that politicians know this and fully use this to their advantage. The current Geographical constituency seats is just another way for parties to increase seat share by riding on blind party loyalty. Politicians will never change a system which benefits them, and currently – despite protestations by various parties to the contrary – the system benefits them perfectly: MPs are accountable to the party, removed by the party, appointed by the party, and can choose to not ‘get involved’ in keeping with party interest.

There are solutions for all these issues related to our governance, but this is Guyana after all. I leave it at that.

Yours faithfully,

V. Hemsworth

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