Guyana Elections: History not on side of smaller political parties – By Christopher Ram

— unless they can win Geographical Constituency seat

Dear Editor,

There are four days before Nomination Day to be followed by fifty-two days before elections for the sixty-five seats in the National Assembly – twenty-five for geographical constituencies (GC) and forty for the national top-up list. So far, apart from the APNU+AFC and the PPP/C, there are about a dozen parties which have announced their intention to contest the elections on their own, despite the general call that they seek some form of electoral alliance.

It has to be assumed that their leaders are confident that they can overcome the formidable hurdles in their way posed by the election laws, the resource challenges and the experiences of smaller parties in past elections.         

The first hurdle, the Representation of the People Act, imposes on each party the requirement that it must contest a minimum of six Geographical Constituencies – which coincide with the Administrative Regions – accounting for thirteen of the twenty-five geographical constituency seats. But not any six since Constituencies 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 only account for twelve seats. In other words, any party seeking to contest the elections has to include at least one of Constituencies 3, 4 and 6. While Constituency 4 accounts for seven seats, the other six of the thirteen have to come from five constituencies, even though Constituencies 3, 4 and 6 account for thirteen seats.

While the six-Constituency requirement is partly nominal – parties may choose to focus attention and resources on as few Geographical Constituencies as they choose – the practical challenge is the requirement that each Party list must be supported by a minimum of three hundred eligible members for the national top-up list and one hundred a fifty members for each geographical constituency. In other words, at a minimum the list for each party has to be supported by twelve hundred voters, who have to be drawn from the respective Geographical Constituencies.

Another major challenge concerns resources. The large contractors, major companies and overseas supporters who contribute to elections funds are reluctant to donate to the smaller parties because of their perceived slim chances of winning, and therefore of rewarding their donors after the elections. Paradoxically, while the larger parties can campaign with outsized rallies, the smaller parties with very thin leadership and cadre of helpers have to knock on doors and plead with voters to support their largely unknown entities and leadership. The investment in time per vote is correspondingly much greater for the smaller parties than the bigger ones.

A more neutral issue is the system for the allocation of seats based on the proportional representation system known as the largest remainder using the “Hare quota”. The twenty-five Geographical Constituency seats are declared and their MPs are elected before the national top-up seats are declared. For all practical purposes, Regions 8 and 9 which have one seat each is effectively based on the first-past-the-post since the list with the highest number of votes wins that seat, regardless of the overall number of votes cast for that list nationally. Just by way of example, Geographical Constituency No. 8 in 2015 was won with 1,837 votes when the votes required for allocation of a seat to the National Assembly under the proportional representation system was 6,338. Had a smaller party taken that seat and nothing else, its candidate would have sat in the National Assembly with a vote as powerful as those earned by the other sixty-four members of the Assembly.

There are other requirements such as the fraction of one-third of the number of persons on the lists of candidates for geographical constituencies taken together to be female and a restriction (20%) of the lists without any female.

History too is not on the side of these smaller parties: unless they can win a Geographical Constituency seat, their chances for a National Top-up seat will depend on them coming out on top of the highest remainder after all full seats have been allocated. The pattern of elections since 1997 shows that votes for the small parties are usually wasted. In 1997, six small parties with 6,022 votes won no seat while one party with over one thousand fewer votes made it into the National Assembly. In elections 2001, three small parties captured 4600 votes but no seat. If the largest and smallest of the three had gone into the elections together, they would have easily won a seat. In 2006, one such party received 2571 votes but not a single seat. Election 2011 saw the rise of the AFC and the smaller parties coalescing around the PNCR in the APNU with only the TUF as a small party gaining 885 votes but no seat. Because the presidency is won based on the plurality of votes, Donald Ramotar won the presidency for the PPP/C in that year with a plurality of votes and a minority of seats – 32 out of sixty-five. Most recently, in elections 2015, the David Granger-led APNU+AFC came out on top with a majority of 4,506 votes over the PPP/C while four small parties gained a total of 2100 votes but no seat.

We will know on March 2 whether history will continue to repeat itself.

Yours faithfully,

Christopher Ram

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