Representation of minority parties

Representation of minority parties

Early Advocates. The question whether the constitution should not guarantee representation, proportional or otherwise, to the minor political parties in the state, especially the more important ones, has had supporters dating from the epoch when in practice the principle of minority representation was unknown.

John Stuart Mill in his classic book on “Representative Government,” published in 1861, declared that

“it is an essential part of democracy that minorities should be adequately represented. ”

No real democracy, nothing but a false show of democracy, he said,

is possible without it. Nothing is more certain, he affirmed, than that the virtual blotting out of the minority is no necessary or natural consequence of freedom, but instead is diametrically Opposed to the first principle of democracy representation in proportion to numbers.

Mill lamented that most existing democracies were not governments of the whole people, by the whole people, equally represented, but governments of the whole people, by a mere majority of the people, exclusively represented.

He readily admitted that the majority must rule in a representative system and that the minority must yield to its will but from that it does not follow that the minority should have no representation at all. In any really equal democracy, he said, every or any section would be represented, not disproportionately, but proportionately.

A majority of the electors would always have a majority of the representatives but a minority of the electors would always have a minority of the representatives. Man for man they would be as fully represented as the majority, and unless they are, there is not equal government, but a government of inequality and privilege-contrary to all just government, but above all contrary to the principle of democracy Which professes Equality as its very root and foundation.

Criticisms of the System of Majority Representation :

The system of majority representation is criticized as undemocratic and unjust because it in effect permanently disfranchises large numbers of electors and leaves them Without representation because they are politically in a minority in their constituencies. Indeed it may, and not in frequently does, happen that a majority of the representatives in the legislature are returned by a minority of the electors.

Against this, however, it may be argued that, although the minority party in a given constituency may have no representation of its own, the same party is often in the majority in other constituencies, and thus the representatives chosen by the party in those districts Where it is in the majority represent the party in those in which it is in the minority.

Thus it may be said that Republican minorities in the Southern states of the American union are represented in Congress by Republican members from the Northern states. While the Democrats of New England are represented by the Democratic members returned from the South.

But it Will be replied that no such theory of representation is sound, because a representative chosen by a constituency in one part of a state as vast as the republic of the United States cannot adequately represent the members of the party living in remote parts of the country.

It often happens in the United States, both in the national and in the state legislatures, as well as in the municipal councils, that the majority party elects a larger number of representatives than it Would be entitled to on the basis of its numerical strength. Thus p in the presidential election of 1904 the Republican party, While casting only 54 per cent of the total vote in the country at large, elected 65 per cent of the representatives in Congress.

In 1906 the Democratic party in Pennsylvania cast more than a half million votes but did not elect a single representative in Congress. In Indiana the Republicans actually cast less than half of the total g vote but elected all the representatives. Instances of this kind in national, state, and municipal elections might be multiplied. Nor are they by any means lacking in European countries.

The minority party in a constituency usually does not secure any representation under such a system, and, taking the aggregate result in ,all the districts over which the election extends, one party or the other secures less than the representation to which its aggregate numerical strength entitles it.

Movement for Proportional Representation :

With the passing of time the demand for a system of representation which would prevent or attenuate results such as these, which to large numbers oil persons seemed utterly inconsistent with the true principles of representative government, grew in volume. An extensive literature advocating the introduction of a system of proportional representation appeared and public opinion was instructed and informed by means of an active propaganda carried on by numerous societies and organizations.

Already before the World War the system in one form or another had been introduced for the election of representatives in national or local legislatures or in municipal councils in a good many countries, mainly European, particularly Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Nuremberg, Ireland, Bulgaria, Finland, Serbia, Portugal, Tasmania, and Cuba.

During the war the principle was extended in Denmark and adoptedin the Netherlands. Since the close of the war its progress has been remarkable, nearly all the newly adopted constitutions having provided for it as the basis of representation in the national and in some instances in the local legislatures. It has also been introduced in Italy, and in Greece, and has been further extended in ,various countries in which it had already been adopted before the war.

In Great Britain, however, where the system had hardly gained a foothold before the weir, provision was made by the Representation of the People’s Act of 1918 for an experiment with it in 100 constituencies, but as yet it has not been actually tried out. In the four University constituencies the members are elected by a system of proportional representation known as the Single Transferable Vote.

In the United States schemes for the representation of minority parties have made little progress. Under the Illinois constitution adopted in 1870 three representatives are chosen from each legislative district, and each elector is allowed three votes which he may cumulate on one candidate or distribute among the three in such manner as he pleases.

In practice, the scheme has always (except in three instances) given the minority party at least one , representative in each legislative district, of the state. With only three exceptions also, third parties (Socialists, Progressives, or Prohibitionists) have been able by cumulating their votes to elect a few representatives the number ranging from one to five in each legislature.

Sometimes, however, owing to miscalculations of party strength or defective party discipline, the majority party secures only one of three members and the minority two. But none of the other states have imitated the example of Illinois and the system is not likely to be retained in that state whenever a new constitution takes the place of the present one. It has, however been introduced in a few American cities for the election of municipal councilors.

Criticism of the Principle of Proportional Representation :

Not with standing the recent remarkable spread of the system of minority representation in Europe it is still in the experimental stage in many countries, and a definitive judgment cannot yet be passed on the merits of the system. It has given general satisfaction in certain small countries such as Belgium, Denmark, and Switzerland, but it remains to be seen whether the results in Germany and France will equally commend themselves to public opinion,Many able political writers have condemned the system both on principle and because of the practical difficulties encountered in operating it. Sidgwick, for example, pointed out two “serious objections” to it.

In the first place, the giving of representation  to groups as such involves, he said, the loss of a valuable protection against demagogy by removing the natural inducements which local divisions give for the more instructed part of the community to exercise their powers of persuasion on the less instructed. In, the second place, representation Of groups will inevitably tend to encourage pernicious class legislation. Others maintain that it will tend to reduce the standard of efficiency in the legislature by securing the election of men who represent one set of interests or opinions rather than all of them.

We want for legislators, says Sidgwick, men of some breadth of view and variety of ideas, practiced in comparing different claims and judgments, and endeavoring to find some compromise that will harmonize them as far as possible, which, he said, could hardly be secured under a system in which the community is not locally divided for electoral purposes.

The late Professor Esmein, the most eminent of French jurists of his day, was likewise a vigorous opponent of the whole idea. To establish the system of proportional representation, he said,

“is to convert the remedy supplied by the bicameral system into a veritable poison, it is to organize disorder and emasculate the legislative power it is to render cabinets unstable destroy their homogeneity, and make parliamentary government impossible.”

If applied to parliamentary elections, logic and consistency, he went on to say, require that it shall be applied to the election of executives and administrative officers, and this is but the entering wedge to anarchy. The law of the majority, he added, is one of those simple ideas which makes itself accepted straight off the reel , it presents in advance this characteristic that favors no one and puts all the voters on the same level.

Other objections which have been urged against the system are that it will multiply and strengthen party groups in the legislature and thereby render still more difficult the smooth and effective working of the cabinet system of government in countries where it exists , that it will result frequently in no one party having a workable majority and will thus lead to paralysis of legislation, that it will often lead to over representation of small minorities, that its complexity makes it difficult of practical operation , that in by elections it cannot be applied, that it will strengthen the influence of the party machine and of political bosses, that it will greatly increase the expense of candidates because of the larger electoral districts which it necessitates , and that it would create jealousies among candidates of the same party running on the same ticket.

In practice, some or all of these evils have actually accompanied the system in a number of states where it has been in operation for a considerable 0period. It is hardly necessary to add that some of the objections apply with greater force to certain of the particular forms of proportional representation that have been introduced than to others.