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Proportional representation is a system of government in which representatives to the governing body (parliament, senate, congress etc.) are elected in accordance with the proportion of votes the candidates or their respective political party receive. A number of different proportional representation systems are in existence. All are based on the same premise, that a party receives a percentage of seats in the legislature that is directly related to the percentage of votes cast. Therefore, a party winning 20 percent of the votes would be allocated 20 percent of the legislative seats.
There are Three Main Variations on the Proportional Representation System
The first is List Proportional Representation whereby voters vote for a specific party, with candidates being elected from a party list. Within this system there are two variations. One is a system in which voters vote for the entire list, as is, with seats in the legislature being allocated in accordance to list placement. In the other variation, voters choose a party list and can indicate their preference for candidates.
The second variation is called the Mixed Member Proportional System. This method combines proportional representation with directly elected candidates. Under this system, voters have two votes- one for the party of their choice and one for a parliamentary candidate of their choice who will usually, but not always, represent the district the voter resides in. Under this system the legislature is composed partly of list representatives and partly of directly elected representatives.
The third variation is the Single Transferable Vote System. This method allows for voters to choose numerous candidates and rank them in order of preference. Winning candidates are those that receive a minimum number of votes as determined by the political system in place. Votes cast for unsuccessful candidates are re-distributed according to voter preferences until the full number of parliamentary seats are filled.
There are several primary features of proportional representation systems. The percentage of votes determines the percentage of parliamentary seats. There is diversity in that smaller parties gain parliamentary representation. Another feature is that there are coalitions as opposed to single party majority government. In this manner, smaller coalition parties have a greater influence on government policies. But this can result in government instability and more frequent elections. Complicated voting procedures can mean that the final counting and allocation of all votes cast can take longer than in a direct candidate system.
List of Countries that use the Proportional Representation System
Some 80 countries use one form of proportional representation or another. The vast majority have adopted the list proportional representation system. These countries include 28 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Ukraine), eight African nations (Angola, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia and South Africa), 17 South American and Caribbean states (Argentina, Aruba, Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Antilles, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela) as well as countries from Asia, Australasia and the Middle East, such as Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Sri Lanka and Japan. Only five countries have adopted the single transferable vote system (Australia, India, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Malta) and the remaining states use the mixed member proportional system.
Disadvantages of the Proportional Representation System
Many countries with a system of proportional representation are in a process of reevaluation. The primary reason for this is the political instability and the power placed in the hands of relatively small political parties. These parties frequently hold the determinative vote in critical governmental decisions. Two excellent examples are Italy and Israel, both of which have suffered for decades from minority governments and political instability leading to numerous new elections. On the other hand, as demonstrated in the last United Kingdom general elections, the majority party system failed to produce a clear victor. This served to heighten claims that the majority party system can lead to a government that does not have the support of the majority of voters despite its winning the largest block of votes.
Books about the Proportional Representation System
Amy, Douglas J. (1993). Real Choices/New Voices: The Case for Proportional Representation Elections in the United States”. Columbia University Press.
Denis Pilon (2007). The Politics of Voting. Edmond Montgomery Publications.
Colomer, Josep M. (2003). Political Institutions. Oxford University Press.
Colomer, Josep M., ed (2004). Handbook of Electoral System Choice. Palgrave Macmillan.
Jess; Mary Southcott (1998). Making Votes Count: The Case for Electoral Reform. London: Profile Books.
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