Proportional Representation | Definition, Features, Pros & Cons

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Proportional Representation | Definition, Features, Types, Advantages & Disadvantages

Proportional Representation
Proportional Representation

Definition of Proportional Representation

The proportional representation is an electoral system which emphasizes a direct relationship between the number of votes cast and the number of representatives or legislators elected.

Unlike geographical representation which is based on the constituency, proportional representation is a system in which every group or party is represented in the legislature in proportion to its strengths and the country. If a political party, for example, wins 10% of the total votes, it will have 10% representation in the parliament or government.

Features of Proportional Representation

The main features of proportional representation include the following:

  • Proportional representation is usually associated with multiple systems.
  • Many countries have moved from the plurality system to proportional representation because of the inequalities in the geographical distribution of constituencies. Such countries include Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Germany.
  • The centre directive of proportional representation is to adjust the party representation to correspond with its electoral support. That is, it allocates seats in the legislature in accord with the total votes cast.
  • The proportional representation system is the most suitable system to guarantee the representation of minorities in countries where there are deep tribal, racial or religious differences.
  • The system works best and multi-member constituencies. In a multi-member constituency, the state is divided into large districts or constituencies each of which elects three or more representatives. The multi-member constituency has certain advantages and disadvantages. Its advantages are; first, it places emphasis on national rather than local interests; second, there is little or no attachment to local interests by the elected representatives because of the size of the constituency; and third, the economic and Social interests of minority groups are adequately represented in parliament. The disadvantages include: first, since it is difficult for a single party to win a majority, what usually emerges is a coalition government which is highly unstable; second, because the constituencies are large, it has to find a way by which minority interests will be represented in the legislature; third, it leads to the emergence of several groups in the legislature and finally, there is little or no communication between the people and the elected members.

Types of Proportional Representation

There are five main types of proportional representation, they are;

  1. Single transferable voting system
  2. List voting system
  3. Single non transferable voting system
  4. Limited voting system
  5. Cumulative voting system

Below is a quick description of the types of proportional representation.

#1 – Single Transferable Voting System

Like any other proportional representation system, the single transferable voting system works best in multi-member constituencies. Under this system, a constituency may have five or six or more candidates contesting an election. During the election, each voters is given a ballot paper and he marks his ballot numerically (that is, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 etc) for candidates in order of his choice. The candidate with the highest number of first preferences whose votes are equal to or greater than the quota for the election is elected and also plus votes cast for him are immediately distributed to the candidate named as second choice. Then the candidates who receive the fewest votes are eliminated in turn and their votes are distributed accordingly. The normal practice is to count the third, fourth and later choices before all the seats are filled.

The quota for an election is usually decided by dividing the total number of votes cast at the election by the number of seats.

Problems of Single Transferable Voting System

There are certain problems associated with the use of the single transferable voting in system. They include;

  1. It is complicated and difficult to understand.
  2. It is not clear whether a third or later voting by voter expresses a real choice.
  3. Some parties undermine its practising “bullet voting”. This is the process of voting for only one candidate in order to receive aid from the other parties while not given any.
#2 – List Voting System

The list system is a variation of the single transferable vote system. There are two types of the list system. In the first method, there are many parties and many seats to be contested. Each party nominates three or more candidates according to the number of seats to be filled and the voter vote for the candidate of his choice. When all the votes are counted, each party is accorded a number of seats roughly in proportion of its votes to the total votes. The candidates declared elected are usually those at the top of the list.

In the second method of the list voting system, the voters are given ballot papers that are equal to the number of candidates to be elected. The voters casts their votes for candidates on the list in order of preference. The candidate with the highest first preference votes is declared winner. The second, third, and other preferences may later be picked to provide the required number of candidates.

Problems of List Voting System

The problems of least voting system include the following:

  1. It gives too much power to the party leaders.
  2. The list voting system denied the voters the privilege of selecting the individual candidates. The party does this.
#3 – Single Non-transferable Voting System

Like the single transferable voting system, there are many seats to be filled here. The only difference is that in the single non-transferable voting system, the first candidate in the election is elected and, if more seats are to be filled, the next candidates in that order are selected. In other words, the result of the election to elect one candidate is used to determine the position of the other candidates.

#4 – Limited Voting System

In the limited voting system, the voters allowed to votes for only a limited number of candidates. That is, the voters are allowed to vote for less than the number of candidates are required. For example, if there are seven seats to be filled, the voters are allowed to vote for, let say, about five.

#5 – Cumulative Voting System

Under the cumulative voting system, the voters are given the same number of ballot papers as the number of seats to be filled in the constituencies. He/she can use the ballot papers as he/she pleased. The candidates with the highest number of votes declared winner.

Advantages of Proportional Representation

Proportional representation has some advantages, which includes;

  1. The system allows for the representation of minorities in the legislature and government.
  2. Proportional representation and shows a good relationship between representation and votes cast.
  3. Since all parties are represented in government, it gives everybody a sense of belonging.
  4. It allows for the election of the candidates with the best qualities.
  5. Proportional representation strengthens democracy as the system ensures majority rule.
  6. It allows the election of independent candidates which is a feature of the single member constituency.

Disadvantages of Proportional Representation

The disadvantages of proportional representation include the following:

  1. The system may be too complex for the average elector to understand.
  2. It encourages the formation of a coalition government which is generally possible.
  3. The system emphasizes proportionality rather than responsibility.
  4. Proportional representation system may be manipulated by powerful forces in the society for selfish ends.
  5. Proportional representation leads to instability and irresponsible government.
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