German model gets the balance right
When the crowds gathered to rally for President Basescu in Piata Universitatii, after the Parliament kicked him out of office, they held up banners brandishing their support for the ousted leader.
Among the phrases lauding the impeached head of state, praising his sacked Minister of Justice, Monica Macovei and expletives targeted at members of the leading National Liberal Party and Social Democratic opposition, there were a few placards declaring ‘Uninominal vote’.
To many observers this was a surprise.
It is rare for a change in the complex and technical details of electoral law to rouse the population to public protest.
Regardless of whether these people making declarations were Basescu-appointed stooges or overenthusiastic professors of representative democracy, it showed a passionate desire for a transformation of the current electoral system.
Indeed, around 70 per cent of Romanians have voiced their desire for a uninominal vote, where the electorate chooses a candidate in a small geographical constituency, rather than for a party on a national level.
Cynics may state that these people don’t really understand what the vote means and the percentage of those in favour, similar in number to those who voted for Basescu in the 19 May referendum, want the law because the President wants it – and what’s good for the President is good for them.
Now, publicly, all the parties are behind a mixed uninominal and proportional system based on the German model. Privately, they are terrified of such a change. Their declared enthusiasm may be due to a piece of electoral blackmail from the Head of State.
If they do not opt for the vote, he will declare a referendum. And, as many opponents have discovered to their shock, Basescu never loses elections.
He could also ask the public to vote to adopt the British model.
This is a system of ‘uninominal in extremis’ without any proportional representation, where the people only vote for candidates in their constituency. This means all the members of Parliament would have to campaign in the country at large and shake hands with locals, including some poor people, which may not be to the liking of many of the elite in Palatul Parlamentului.
This extreme measure would probably kill off the National Liberal Party and extremist right wing Greater Romania Party in one stroke. According to the current polls, this would leave the Social Democratic Party and the Democratic Party facing off against one another across the floor, with a large Hungarian representation and a bunch of obscure regional figures.
But the German model, with some additions, is the fairest vote on the table, as we examine in our report (see Reports section).
The post-war system has successfully insured Germany against a revival of extremist forces. It sees a balance between local accountability and national representation. In Romania, it should usher in a new generation of politicians who would win victory through tough campaigning at the regional level. At the same time it will maintain nationwide consent as a check on the aberrations that emerge with radical change.
However, there is one flaw in the system now under debate. If an independent voice stands in one constituency and wins the most votes, but does not gain over 50 per cent plus one, he or she does not enter Parliament as the people’s representative.
It would be undemocratic to deny people their most popular choice – however bizarre that may turn out to be.