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What proportional representation could look like in Kuwait

By Khaled Al-Abdulhadi

KUWAIT: We have recently been hearing about some parliamentary election candidates calling for a proportional representation (PR) system to replace the existing first past the post (FPTP) system that we have in Kuwait. The FPTP system is a plurality-based voting system with five constituencies and a single non-transferrable vote for each voter.

According to Britannica, proportional representation is an “electoral system that seeks to create a representative body that reflects the overall distribution of public support for each political party.” Although parties are illegal in Kuwait, political blocs are permitted. Blocs are similar to parties, but they are less rigid and thus less powerful than parties.

“Where majority or plurality systems effectively reward strong parties and penalize weak ones by providing the representation of a whole constituency to a single candidate who may have received fewer than half of the votes cast … proportional representation ensures minority groups a measure of representation proportionate to their electoral support,” Britannica explains.

The two most common PR systems are the single transferable vote (STV) and mixed member proportional (MMP) system. “Under STV, voters rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference,” according to the encyclopedia.

On the other hand, under MMP or “party list” system, “the elector votes not for a single candidate but for a list of candidates. Each list generally is submitted by a different party, though an individual can put forward his own list.”

It should be known that every country has its own electoral system, regardless of the common systems used. When voting, there are two systems — a principal system that collects the vote and a latter system used for counting the votes. This makes almost every country unique in their electoral systems.

British Columbia, Canada, uses a plurality FPTP system similar to Kuwait, and there have been discussions about transforming the voting system to a PR one. Fraser Institute studied the consequences of British Columbia’s transformation from a plurality FPTP system to a PR system in 2018. “In contrast to plurality or majoritarian systems, PR systems intend to more closely align overall votes with seats, giving smaller or minority parties a greater chance of winning seats,” the institute’s authors wrote.

There are different formulas for both PR systems, but in Kuwait, the two most likely to be implemented are the MMP and STV systems.

 

Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

With this system, voters are allowed to cast two votes, one for a party (bloc) and one for a candidate. The first vote determines the proportion of seats the party will acquire in parliament, while the other vote determines the candidate’s position within the party. Candidates with the most votes are prioritized in the legislature, after which comes the proportional allocation of parties based on their voter turnout.

Advantages/disadvantages

The Fraser Institute’s report found that “(MMP) is praised because voters believe that it is a system in which fewer votes are wasted. Because smaller parties have a better chance of being elected, the public can express its distaste for the incumbent government by choosing fringe parties. (In turn, in MMP, some smaller parties are allowed to be represented in the legislature.)”

“MMP also allows the public to vote for both an individual candidate and the party of their choice. As a result, this system often reduces the dominance of one or two larger parties in the legislature. Unlike the closed party list system, MMP retains the link between the electorate and the MP,” the report added.

“However, in cases where smaller parties have a better chance of electoral victory, some of those parties can be extremist either on the left or on the right. These systems often result in minority governments, which means that sometimes the smaller parties have a disproportionate impact on how the resulting government is constructed. Because minority or coalition governments are so frequent in PR electoral systems, government itself can often be unstable,” it added, pointing out that the system also allows for long ballots to be used.

 

Single Transferrable Vote (STV)

Older but used less frequently than MMP representation, STV is a system whereby voters rank their preferred candidate by preference, as voters can have an alternative candidate elected should their first choice be eliminated.

 

Advantages/disadvantages

The Fraser Institute report says: “Like most electoral systems, the PR electoral systems have advantages and disadvantages. Regimes that use the single transferable vote as their voting system value the public being able to choose between parties and between candidates in those parties. In this system, it can be easier for independent candidates to get elected. STV has been shown to help promote women and minority group candidates.

“One disadvantage of this system is that the process of counting the votes takes longer than in other systems, which means that the results are not likely to be declared on the night of the election as they can be with FPTP,” the report indicated, adding, “STV systems are prone to ‘donkey voting’ … voters will simply rank candidates in the order they appear on the ballot, which does not make for informed voting decisions,” they wrote, pointing out that long ballot lists discourage some voters from voting.

The institute added: “…parties benefit from providing balanced lists that appeal to a wide range of voters. However, PR also tends to weaken the link between the MP and the constituents. This is especially the case with closed party list systems. The electorate may feel that they have no opportunity to determine which specific MP is going to represent them, and thus the accountability of the elected official is reduced.”

 

How the systems could work in Kuwait

Blocs in Kuwait can register as a group and independent candidates can run independently within the MMP system, while with the STV system is more straightforward. But how these voting systems will take shape in Kuwait is vague due to parties being illegal and blocs taking their place. That’s in addition to the overwhelming number of independent candidates that run when compared to bloc members. However, it would be interesting to see an alternative Kuwaiti form of any of these systems, should they be adopted. Most importantly, the shift to a more team-based form of elections might shape a more organized legislature.

 

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