Are you wondering if it’s time to change politics? Wondering how it works in other countries? The other day my neighbor M, a few other people and I (but mostly my neighbor and I) were having a discussion on Facebook that I’d like to share, with some expansion on my comments. I’ll cut it up into several posts, to keep it readable.
M: Discussion topic for the day: Perhaps we should NOT vote based on issues or on our our values. Rather, we should vote for people who we think will be good representatives for ALL people based on their experience, fairness, and demonstrated competence. Elected officials should not pursue exclusively the preferences of the people who supported them. Rather, they should use their judgement to do what’s best for the community as a whole. I kind of think that’s what the founding fathers had in mind when they established a representative government. There’ something wrong with our “winner take all” approach to politics – the idea that if 50.1% of voters want one policy, and 49.9% want another, the 49.9% can go suck an egg because their side LOST. ( I’m not trying to make any statement for/against any particular candidate here, but about our attitudes towards how we choose to govern ourselves. )
Friend of M #1: How about the parliamentary system, where parties are represented according to the percentage of the vote they received?
Friend of M #2: There are a certain number of politicians who don’t have any interest in working with other people, making bargains, and compromises. They have always been around, but we seem to have more now than before, and it’s stopping up the works, preventing legislation that would benefit everyone from passing.
Me: Not surprisingly, I agree with Friend #1, and to a degree it takes care of the problems Friend #2 refers to. In my not at all humble opinion, the whole idea that any one person can represent everyone is ridiculous. Human nature doesn’t work that way.
However, there are ways to make different representatives work together and reach at least halfway reasonable compromises. A parliamentary system can make a politician stick to his/her promises to the voters and at the same time ensure more cooperation between politicians.
In the Dutch parliamentary system (which is based on proportional representation) the people have two levels of input. You can be “just” a voter, looking at what the different parties offer and then voting for the one you agree with the most. Or you can be a member of a party of your choice, in which case you are actively involved in determining what that party’s platform will be, and who the candidates will be.
So the politicians are not on their own, saying whatever they want during the election and doing whatever they want afterward, until the next election. They are accountable, not only to the voters, whose input is reelecting them or not years down the road, but to the members who have chosen the candidates to lead the party in realizing their platform.
Thus, in a parliamentary system the emphasis is not on individual politicians, but on the party platforms. A platform is basically a list of the issues and what priority is given to each and how the party would work to achieve the goals of each issue.They are what the parties promise to work on in parliament. And again, the platforms are ultimately determined by the party members.
The party members vote to have people on the party list who they think will best take the lead on those platforms. What is the party list? On the ballot, not only are all the parties represented, but each party has a party list–a list of their candidates. Since the number of seats in parliament is determined by the percentage of the vote a party gets, a party that expects to have about 30 seats in parliament will have way more than that many people on the party list.
The party members also determine in which order the candidates are put on the party list. In practice number one on the list will end up being the party leader, because most voters just vote for a party and then check off the first name on the party list. But voters can also tick off anyone else on the list as their choice to lead the party.
If–once elected–the representatives don’t stick to the party platform (within reason), they can be replaced. After all, the platform is the party’s election promise to the voters on where it stands.
If American parties had actual platforms instead of individuals going whichever way the wind blows, simply to get as many votes as they can, you’d automatically have more parties, and the voters would have more choices.
The Republican Party would split up and you’d see how many christian fundamentalists there really are, and how many NRA (National Rifle Association) fans and how many people have other priorities. The same would happen with the Democrats. Because if you really think that it’s important that everyone be allowed to carry guns everywhere, you’d only get the votes of people who feel the same, while others would shop for a different party. No one party would get the majority of the votes, so parties would have to compromise and work together in a coalition, or be the opposition parties, which also still have a say. Just not as big a say because they don’t have secretarial posts.
Regardless of whether the party you voted for ends up in government or in the opposition, it will have a say. Unless it gets so few votes that it doesn’t even have one seat in parliament. In that case a party can rethink its platform. And when your party, with its platform that much more closely resembles your own opinions, values and priorities, has seats in parliament, and therefore a vote on every issue, you will feel sufficiently represented and there isn’t this tremendous cynicism and disenfranchisement.
You wouldn’t have half the country feeling they lost, or people feeling cheated because their candidate promises things during the election and then turns around and does whatever the special interest group with the biggest purse strings wants them to.
So here’s a question for you: If America had many parties, what do you think some of the parties would be? Any suggestions for catchy names?
The next post in this series is about compromise in politics.