Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia



                  QN2005C          September 2005       www.prsa.org.au









British Columbia: Speech from the Throne gives BC-STV Promise of Another Chance


The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia that was elected at the general election held in May 2005 was opened by the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia, Hon. Iona Campagnolo, on 12th September 2005.


A referendum on whether a particularly attractive quota-preferential system of proportional representation called BC-STV would replace the province’s system of single-member electorates was held in conjunction with that poll (see QN2005B).


Although the legislated 60% overall support threshold was just missed, supporters of reform continued to lobby for change in light of the strong overall majority achieved, and majorities in 77 of 79 ridings. Canadians had determined other important matters in the affirmative in such circumstances.


Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell indicated his respect for the message sent by the strong Yes vote but no details were forthcoming until the government response was outlined in the following terms by the Lieutentant-Governor in her Speech from the Throne.


“Your government has considered the date set for the next election and has resolved that the next general election will be held as scheduled, four years from the last provincial election, on May 12th, 2009.


The issue of electoral reform remains following the results of the referendum put before the public in May.


Nearly 58 per cent of all citizens who cast a ballot in the recent referendum on electoral reform supported the proposed STV electoral system.


A solid majority supported STV in all but two of B.C.'s 79 constituencies.


And yet that was not enough to pass, according to the rules this Legislature unanimously established.


Your government has been clear that it does not intend to rewrite those rules after the fact, or pretend that the vote for STV succeeded when it did not.

Nor can it ignore the size of the double majority that voted to change our current electoral system to the STV model.


There have been many interpretations of the electoral reform referendum's result.


Whatever the analysis, a troubling question remains: why did so many people vote so strongly to change the current system?


The Citizens' Assembly considered the question of electoral reform for over a year.


They, too, concluded that our current system of electing MLAs was lacking and that a better system could be found in the single transferable vote model.


They came to that conclusion after intensive investigation, public consultation, and consideration of academic advice.


Your government does not accept that the solution to a majority vote that failed to pass is to essentially ignore it and impose yet another electoral system.


It does not accept that the answer to the minority's rejection of the Citizens' Assembly's proposal is to redo its work.


It does not accept that the 79 members of this assembly are any better qualified than the 161 members of the Citizens' Assembly were to choose the best electoral model.


In any event, your government believes that the widely acknowledged success of the Citizens' Assembly flowed directly from its independence from traditional political interference.


The Citizens' Assembly had no political master and no partisan axes to grind.


It was not a body of elected politicians who were perceived to be guided by self-interest.


It was exactly what this Legislature intended - citizen-centered, dedicated, and independent.”


New Democratic Party Opposition Leader Carole James had revealed publicly that she voted against BC-STV and preferred to set aside the work of the Citizens’ Assembly for other possibilities.


In contrast, through the Lieutenant-Governor, the Liberal Government now announced that the Electoral Boundaries Commission would be required to both redraw boundaries for single-member ridings and establish concrete multi-member boundaries in advance of another referendum.


“The commission will be asked to submit its final report on electoral redistribution under both electoral systems by the spring of 2008.


That information will be put before the public as part of an extensive effort to better inform British Columbians about the two electoral options - the current system and STV.


Equal funding will be provided to support active information campaigns for supporters and detractors of each model.


The two models will be put to a province-wide vote, along with the applicable electoral boundaries, in a referendum that will be held in tandem with the November 2008 municipal elections.


That question will be crafted by the government and will be debated and voted upon in this Legislature.


All members, including cabinet ministers, will be free to speak to it and vote as they wish.”


The Government indicated that as usual all MPs would be encouraged to make representations to the Electoral Boundaries Commission, including on the relative merits of the two systems in contention.


“No one is obliged to support STV or remain silent if they have concerns.


The Premier will remain neutral, but all government members will be free to support or oppose either model.


In the final analysis, the people will again decide - not the politicians - which electoral model and boundaries suit them best.


The people will have their final say on STV.


The same rules and thresholds that applied for passing STV in the recent referendum will apply in the November 2008 referendum.


Whichever model succeeds is the model that will be employed to elect the next parliament, on May 12th, 2009.”

Bruce Hallsor, President of Fair Voting BC, congratulated the Premier straight after the Speech from the Throne, commending the decision that a specific detailed STV riding proposal be worked out for the re-submission to the people. Fair Voting BC remained concerned about the retention of the 60% voter threshold, but its members were optimistic about prevailing in November 2008.


“One thing we saw in the 2005 referendum campaign was that week by week, the more people learned about STV, the more they liked it,” Mr Hallsor said. “By 2008, with a concrete system in place, people will be able to make an informed decision, and we are confident that they will continue to support STV over our current antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system.”



Small Shift in Japanese Voter Sentiment Translates into Hybrid System Landslide


An Upper House vote against the Government’s proposed privatization of Japan Post by 2007, after proposed separation of its mail delivery, banking and insurance arms, led to a snap Japanese Lower House election less than two years after the previous one.


Some opponents of reform in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) might have hoped to bury the proposal internally (and perhaps retain access to the pork-barrelling potential of large financial flows), or even create enough embarrassment for the Prime Minister, Mr Junichiro Koizumi, to consider his position. Instead, Mr Koizumi immediately announced a House of Representatives poll, and campaigned vigorously on the slogan “Don’t stop the reform”.


Thirty-seven MPs in the Liberal Democratic Party that had voted against the legislation were refused endorsement, and two senior postal ministry officials briefing the rebels were sacked. Three new parties were formed by the LDP outcasts, but the majority of them stood as independents. Mr Koizumi found a number of prominent people to stand against various rebels, obtaining extensive coverage for what the media dubbed “assassin” candidates, nine of whom took out their single-member opponents.


The Prime Minister promised to step down if his party’s standing was not maintained, and he stuck to his one main campaign theme. The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) initially emphasized the parental care and pension reform policies that had boosted its standing in 2003 and declared postal privatization relatively insignificant. With opinion polls indicating public support for the thwarted reforms, and foreboding a major shift in seats that some observers were loath to believe, the DPJ leader, Mr Okada, eventually began to argue that the banking and insurance arms of Japan Post should gradually be privatized.


Following changes in 2000 that Mr Koizumi had not supported, the previous single non-transferable vote in multi-member constituencies that had been a factor in rampant “money politics” gave way to a hybrid system of 300 single-member constituencies (each determined on a first-past-the-post basis), and a separate simple d’Hondt proportional representation component in 11 block constituencies grouping various prefectures (in each case, between 6 and 30 vacancies are sequentially allocated on the basis of the next-highest average number of eligible party list votes per seat).


There were 1,132 candidates (147 women), 779 in the block constituencies and 989 in single-member electorates (636 were in both, being included in the party list for the block constituency in which they were individual contestants). With extensive media and public interest in the campaign, turnout rose from just under 60% to 67.5%.


Support for the Liberal Democratic Party increased by 3.9% in the single-member component to 48% (inflated as usual by the agreement with New Komeito, its Clean Government Party partner, not to stand against each other) and by 3.3% in the block constituencies to just over 38%. Support for the DPJ was just above 36% in the single-member constituencies, roughly at 2003 election levels, but fell by 6.4% to 31% in the block constituencies.


The consequences were devastating for the DPJ. Its leader resigned on election night. The change in relativities meant that the LDP gained eight seats in the PR component and the DPJ lost 11. In the single-member electorates the DPJ, which did particularly badly in urban areas, dropped 53 seats nationally and the LDP gained 51.


There were at least two-thirds single-member majorities of seats for the most popular party in each block (the DPJ led in Hokkaido alone). The LDP went from overall minority to exaggerated majority in the major Kinki, Minamikanto, Tokyo, and Tokai blocks. It won 23 of the 25 single-member seats in Tokyo and, because its party list had just 30 candidates, even gave up to the once-prominent Social Democratic Party one block seat to which it would have been entitled if a longer list had been submitted.


A record number of forty-three women were elected, including twenty-six from the LDP, four from New Komeito, and seven from the DPJ.


The table below illustrates the seismic shift in representation that can occur in a hybrid system after relatively small changes in voter opinion, if no attempt is made to wind back the distortions of the winner-take-all component. Vote percentages and seats are compared with those at the 2003 general elections. With a two-thirds majority, the Government is also now in a position to constitutionally override any Upper House defeats.







Liberal Democratic Party

Seats (%)







Votes %

48.0 (+3.9)

38.2 (+3.3)


Seat change




Democratic Party of Japan

Seats (%)







Votes %






Seat change




New Komeito

Seats (%)







Votes %

1.4 (+0.1)




Seat change




Other parties

Seats (%)







Votes %



17.5 (+4.6)


Seat change





Seats (%)






Votes %





Seat change






Victoria’s First Use of Countback to fill a Municipal Casual Vacancy


Warrnambool City Council in south-western Victoria, in July 2005, provided the first instance in Victoria of the use of countback to fill a vacancy in a public election. In 2004 the seven councillors were elected as a group by PR from the whole municipal district.


The countback showed that, of the 13 candidates at that 2004 poll, Mr Michael Neoh gained an absolute majority of the next available preferences of the quota of votes that elected the vacating councillor.


Mr Neoh was therefore declared elected to replace that councillor, Cr Mitch Preston, and he took the oath of office on 8th August 2005.


Regrettably, little detail has so far appeared on the Web site of the Victorian Electoral Commission (www.vec.vic.gov.au) where the countback result appears. By contrast the Web site of the Tasmanian Electoral Commission (www.electoral.tas.gov.au) has full details of certain Tasmanian municipal countbacks, complete with histograms, which give working examples of countback, and are very informative.


Labour Continues to Govern New Zealand for an Historic Third Consecutive Term


After months of a “phoney campaign”, July NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark announced general elections for 17th September 2005.


Dr Don Brash, a Parliamentary newcomer and former NZ Reserve Bank head, had taken the National Party leadership a year after its slump to just 21% support in 2002. Speeches alleging a culture of excessive Maori entitlements and “political correctness” in relation to education, crime and welfare dependence, and the canvassing of extensive tax cuts, had led to sudden surges in reported National poll support.


Observers expected a bruising campaign as Ms Clark sought to lead Labour to an historic third consecutive term through the social dividend possible in a strong economy, including the offer of interest-free student loans and incentives for first homebuyers to save. Labour also raised the spectre of public services being run down under a National leadership with limited parliamentary experience.


Campaign polling indicated seesawing fortunes for Labour and National, with both the Green Party and New Zealand First near the 5% threshold required for seat eligibility if no individual constituencies are won by a party. The Maori Party had formed in protest at the Labour Government’s passing legislation to limit the right to claim foreshore and seabed areas, and it was strongly challenging Labor’s traditional dominance in the seven reserved Maori seats.


Of those eligible to vote, 95% registered by the cut-off one day before polling, and there was again a relatively high turnout of 81% of those enrolled, up from 77% at the July 2002 election. The closeness of the polls was borne out, with Labour one seat in front on election night, but National expressing hopes of improving its position when the 10.8% of special votes (overseas, absent and where enrolment occurred after nomination day) were counted over the following fortnight.








seats (%)

31 (44.9)

19 (36.5)

50 (41.3)


votes %



- 2


seats (%)

31 (44.9)

17 (32.7)

48 (39.7)


votes %



+ 21

NZ First

seats (%)


7 (13.5)

7 (5.8)


votes %



- 6


seats (%)


6 (11.5)

6 (5.0)


votes %





seats (%)

4 (5.8)


4 (3.3)


votes %



+ 4


seats (%)

1 (1.4)

2 (3.8)

3 (2.5)


votes %



- 5


seats (%)

1 (1.4)

1 (1.9)

2 (1.7)


votes %



- 7


seats (%)

1 (1.4)


1 (0.8)


votes %



- 1







votes %





Labour and National had won 31 seats each among the single-member constituencies (three and nil respectively among the Maori seats), and the leaders of the Progressive Party (Jim Anderton, who had left Labour in the 1980s in protest at its economic rationalist policies, and later been Deputy Prime Minister), ACT (Rodney Hide) and United Future (one-time Labour Minister, Peter Dunne) had each been returned. New Zealand First’s Winston Peters lost narrowly in Tauranga after a vigorous constituency campaign that attracted national media attention, but he headed his party’s national list. The highest Green Party support in any single-member constituency was 15.4%.


 When special votes were declared on 1st October 2005, Labour fared slightly better than National, which receded one seat from its apparent election night position. New Zealand First and the Green Party each polled between 5 and 6 per cent, picking up 7 and 6 seats respectively in the Sainte-Laguë allocation that occurs by repeatedly dividing PR party list votes by twice the number of seats already allocated, plus one. Had they slipped below 5%, as preferences are not expressed, their supporters’ votes would have been wasted, and substantial distortions of voters’ expressed wishes would have occurred.


Seat entitlements in New Zealand are determined by national party list votes, and the number of single-member victors are subtracted to establish how many more are required from the top of the national party list. When a party wins more single-member seats than its entitlement, as occurred with the Maori Party (four instead of three), additional seats are created in the next Parliament.


Informal voting was around 0.4% in the party list component, 1% for general single-member constituencies and 3% in the Maori seats.


The table below summarizes how levels of support translated into seats nationwide, and indicates in italics the change in total seats since 2002.


During the campaign, both Mr Peters and Mr Dunne indicated that they would seek to negotiate stable government with the party winning most seats, and stated their opposition to the Green Party being in government. Co-leader Rod Donald persuaded the Greens to seek office to make more policy achievements, but they could not deliver Labour a majority in tandem with the Maori Party.


After extensive negotiations, Ms Clark, on 17th October 2005, announced the basis on which the next Government would operate (www.beehive.govt.nz/ViewDocument.aspx?DocumentID=24256). The Greens, undertaking not to oppose votes on supply or confidence, were not included, but will be consulted on stated matters.


Mr Anderton would remain in Cabinet, while the New Zealand First and United Future leaders would be Ministers outside Cabinet, Mr Peters as Foreign Minister and Mr Dunne as Revenue Minister. The Prime Minister published specific policies of each party



© 2005 Proportional Representation Society of Australia

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