With humility I write you about my perceptions and thoughts on our beloved Egypt, our New Constitution and Electoral System.
This dynamic revolution has put Egypt in the world’s spotlight and has thrown the gates wide open for unprecedented democratic opportunities for change in Egypt. Egyptians have the possibility of drawing from the best examples historically and worldwide while avoiding the horrendous pitfalls that have undermined democracy in other countries. As an Egyptian citizen, I have high hopes that Egypt will draw from these lessons both positive and negative. As a dual national (Egyptian and American) I hope that Egyptians will heed this warning: do not replicate an “American style” electoral process.
Research shows that the most democratic constitutions are the most detailed and therefore stand the test of time. One message is simple.Draw up a Constitution that will include in it all details for the execution of fair and just electoral processes. A well-written Constitution will not allow for money and media to take over politics and in turn dictate who will rule Egypt.
Heed this warning. Do not replicate other systems that have failed democracy. Here is a bad example:
A good constitution must include specifications for an electoral system of rules and regulations that will not allow for the kind of erosion of democracy that we are witnessing in the US today. The 2012 American presidential election cannot be called democratic. This was a race for money and money alone. There were a total of 28 presidential candidates at the beginning of the race. Most people never heard about the other 26 because they did not have the large sums of money to compete against the Democratic and Republican parties. Is this democratic? Absolutely not.
Total spending on the 2012 US Presidential and Congressional races reached a record $6.0 Billion according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. The estimated total cost of the 2012 elections jumped 7% from $5.4 billion (in 2008) to $6 billion in 2012 and is expected to continue to rise with every forthcoming election unless there is electoral reform, which is extremely unlikely. $2.3 Billion was donated by individuals and another $3.7 Billion was raised from corporations, Super PACs and outside private interest groups (often ideological groups) who do not have disclose who they are or what they stand for.
In early 2012 the US Supreme Court ruled that unlimited funds could be donated to candidates by corporations, Super PACs and other outside groups that don’t have to reveal their donors. Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, reported that what is “more important than the total spent, is how great a portion of that money will come from purportedly independent, often secretive groups.”
Essentially this means that the US Presidency can be bought by corporations or any ideological interest groups with huge sums of money. This is not a democratic process. This is plutocratic process. A plutocracy is defined as a country or society governed by an elite or ruling class of people whose power derives from their wealth.
Egypt can be more Democratic than America
Egypt has the unprecedented opportunity of crafting the best possible Constitution that will incorporate lessons learned throughout the world. Egypt must draw from both good examples and bad and do better. There is much that can be done to produce an equal playing field for all candidates, real transparency, wider civil participation, rule of law, and greater democracy overall.
The next president of Egypt will serve for only eight years, while a well-crafted Constitution will serve Egypt for generations to come. It is therefore imperative that the Constitution include what we Americans wish we could have through a much need electoral reform.
A new Egyptian Constitution should stipulate the following and more:
1.The electoral presidential and parliamentary campaign season must be limited to only three months and tightly regulated by a National Election Commission.
2.No fundraising, advertising, mailings, debates or promotional activities can take place outside this three-month time frame. This must also be tightly regulated by the National Election Commission.
3.No corporation, special interest group, PAC, nor citizen can donate more than $100 to a candidate or a party. All donations must be recorded and regulated by the National Election Commission.
4.Each candidate and/or party will be limited to a set amount of money (determined by the Election Commission) to spend during an election campaign season. This amount will be the same for ALL candidates running for the same elected position. This must be tightly regulated by the National Election Commission.
5.All registered official candidates will have a specified number of free hours of media time to campaign and explain her/his policies, platform and promises. The number of free hours of media time will be the same for ALL candidate and no candidate can buy additional hours. This must be tightly regulated by the National Election Commission.
6.Egypt should be creative, look at and choose an electoral process that is as democratic as possible. A simple majority win is not always the most democratic. For example: Preferential voting or rank voting results in a consensus vote and a winner that is the most acceptable to the greatest number of people. This and other electoral processes must be considered by Egypt. There is a plethora of preferential voting systems, it is important to consider all. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranked_voting_systems
Some Advice for Electoral Systems Designers
One of the clearest conclusions to be drawn from the comparative study of electoral systems is simply the range and utility of the options available. Often, designers and drafters of constitutional, political, and electoral frameworks simply choose the electoral system they know best—often, in new democracies, the system of the former colonial power if there was one—rather than fully investigating the alternatives. Sometimes the elements of a peace settlement or external pressures constrain the options available.
The major purpose of this text is to provide some of the knowledge for informed decisions to be made. It does not necessarily advocate wholesale changes to existing electoral systems; in fact, the comparative experience of electoral reform to date suggests that moderate reform, building on those parts of an existing system which work well, is often a better option than jumping to a completely new and unfamiliar system.
There is much to be learned from the experience of others. For example, a country with an FPTP system which wishes to move to a more proportional system while still retaining the geographical link to constituents might want to consider the experience of New Zealand, which adopted an MMP system in 1993, or Lesotho, which did so in 2002. A similar country which wants to keep single-member districts but encourage inter-group accommodation and compromise could evaluate the experience of AV in the Oceania region (Fiji or Papua New Guinea in particular). Any deeply divided country that wishes to make the transition to democracy would be well advised to consider both the multi-ethnic power-sharing government the List PR electoral system in South Africa has facilitated and the more troubled history of the Northern Ireland Assembly elected by STV. Lastly, a country which simply wishes to reduce the cost and instability created by a TRS system for electing a president could examine the AV option used by the Republic of Ireland. In all these cases, the choice of electoral system has had a clear impact on the politics of that country.
The following guidelines summarize the advice contained in this topic area:
Keep It Simple and Clear
Effective and sustainable electoral system designs are more likely to be easily understood by the voter and the politician. Too much complexity can lead to misunderstandings, unintended consequences, and voter mistrust of the results.
Don’t be Afraid to Innovate
Many of the successful electoral systems used in the world today themselves represent innovative approaches to specific problems, and have been proved to work well. There is much to learn from the experience of others—both neighbouring countries and seemingly quite different cases.
Pay Attention to Contextual and Temporal Factors
Electoral systems do not work in a vacuum. Their success depends on a happy marriage of political institutions and cultural traditions. The first point of departure for any would-be electoral system designer should be to ask: What is the political and social context I am working within? The second might be: Am I designing a permanent system or one which needs to get us through a transitional period?
Don’t Underestimate the Electorate
While simplicity is important, it is equally dangerous to underestimate the voters’ ability to comprehend and successfully use a wide variety of different electoral systems. Complex preferential systems, for example, have been used successfully in developing countries in the Asia–Pacific region, while the experience of many recent elections in new democracies has underlined the important distinction between ‘functional’ literacy and ‘political’ literacy. Even in very poor countries, voters often have, and wish to express, relatively sophisticated orderings of political preferences and choices. Testing with appropriately drawn focus groups can provide useful information on what will and will not be usable.
Err on the Side of Inclusion
Wherever possible, whether in divided or relatively homogeneous societies, the electoral system should err on the side of including all significant interests in the legislature. Regardless of whether minorities are based on ideological, ethnic, racial, linguistic, regional, or religious identities, the exclusion of significant shades of opinion from legislatures, particularly in the developing world, has often been catastrophically counterproductive.
Process is a Key Factor in Choice
The way in which a particular electoral system is chosen is also extremely important in ensuring its overall legitimacy. A process in which most or all groups are included, including the electorate at large, is likely to result in significantly broader acceptance of the end result than a decision perceived as being motivated by partisan self-interest alone. Although partisan considerations are unavoidable when discussing the choice of electoral systems, broad cross-party and public support for any institution is crucial to its being accepted and respected. The reform of the New Zealand electoral system from FPTP to MMP, for example, involved two referendums which served to legitimize the final outcome. By contrast, the French Socialist government’s decision in 1986 to switch from the existing Two-Round System to PR was widely perceived as being motivated by partisan considerations, and was quickly reversed as soon the government lost power in 1988.
Build Legitimacy and Acceptance Among All Key Actors: All groupings which wish to play a part in the democratic process should feel that the electoral system to be used is fair and gives them the same chance of electoral success as anyone else. The paramount aim should be that those who ‘lose’ the election cannot translate their disappointment into a rejection of the system itself or use the electoral system as an excuse to destabilize the path of democratic consolidation. In 1990, in Nicaragua, the Sandinistas were voted out of the government but accepted the defeat, in part because they accepted the fairness of the electoral system. Cambodia, Mozambique, and South Africa were able to end their bloody civil wars through institutional arrangements which were broadly acceptable to all sides.
Try to Maximize Voter Influence
Voters should feel that elections provide them with a measure of influence over governments and government policy. Choice can be maximized in a number of different ways. Voters may be able to choose between parties, between candidates of different parties, and between candidates of the same party. They may also be able to vote under different systems when it comes to presidential, upper house, lower house, regional, and local government elections. They should also feel confident that their vote has a genuine impact on the formation of the government, not just on the composition of the legislature.
But Balance That Against Encouraging Coherent Political Parties
The desire to maximize voter influence should be balanced against the need to encourage coherent and viable political parties. Maximum voter choice on the ballot paper may produce such a fragmented legislature that no one ends up with the result they were hoping for. There is widespread agreement among political scientists that broadly-based, coherent political parties are among the most important factors in promoting effective and sustainable democracy.
Long-Term Stability and Short-Term Advantage Are Not Always Compatible
When political actors negotiate over a new electoral system, they often push proposals which they believe will advantage their party in the coming elections. However, this can often be an unwise strategy, particularly in developing nations, as one party’s short-term success or dominance may lead to long-term political breakdown and social unrest. For example, in negotiations prior to the transitional 1994 election, South Africa’s ANC could reasonably have argued for the retention of the existing FPTP electoral system, which would probably have given it, as by far the largest party, a seat bonus over and above its share of the national vote. That it argued for a form of PR, and thus won fewer seats than it could have under FPTP, was a testament to the fact that it saw long-term stability as more desirable than short-term electoral gratification. Similarly, electoral systems need to be responsive enough to react effectively to changing political circumstances and the growth of new political movements. Even in established democracies, support for the major parties is rarely stable, while politics in new democracies is almost always highly dynamic, and a party which benefits from the electoral arrangements at one election may not necessarily benefit at the next.
Don’t Think of the Electoral System as a Panacea for All Ills
While it is true that if one wants to change the nature of political competition, the electoral system may be the most effective instrument for doing so, electoral systems can never be the panacea for all the political ills of a country. The overall effects of other variables, particularly a country’s political culture, usually have a much greater impact on its democratic prospects than institutional factors such as electoral systems. Moreover, the positive effects of a well-crafted electoral system can be all too easily submerged by an inappropriate constitutional dispensation, the dominance of forces of discord internally, or the weight of external threats to the sovereignty of the country. But Conversely Don’t Underestimate its Influence Throughout the world, the social constraints on democracy are considerable, but they still leave room for conscious political strategies which may further or hamper successful democratization. Electoral systems are not a panacea, but they are central to the structuring of stability in any polity. Skilful electoral system engineering may not prevent or eradicate deep enmities, but appropriate institutions can nudge the political system in the direction of reduced conflict and greater government accountability. In other words, while most of the changes that can be achieved by tailoring electoral systems are necessarily at the margins, it is often these marginal impacts that make the difference between democracy being consolidated or being undermined.
Be Mindful of the Electorate’s Willingness to Embrace Change
Electoral system change might seem a good idea to political insiders who understand the flaws of the existing system, but unless proposals for reform are presented in an appropriate way, the public may well reject tinkering with the system, perceiving reform to be nothing more than a case of politicians altering the rules for their own benefit. Most damaging are situations when the change is seen to be a blatant manoeuvre for political gain (as was the case in Chile in 1989, in Jordan in 1993, and in Kyrgyzstan on several occasions since 1995, or when the system alters so frequently that the voters do not quite know where they are (as some observers have argued is the case in Bolivia).
And Don’t Assume that Defects can Easily be Fixed Later
All electoral systems create winners and losers, and therefore vested interests. When a system is already in place, these are part of the political environment. At a time of change, however, it may be unwise to assume that it will be easy to gain acceptance later to fix problems which arise. If a review of the system is intended, it may be sensible for it to be incorporated into the legal instruments containing the system change. Take the time needed to get it right the first time.
Avoid Being a Slave to Past Systems
Nevertheless, all too often electoral systems that are inappropriate to a new democracy’s needs have been inherited or carried over from colonial times without any thought as to how they will work within the new political realities. Almost all the former British colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, for example, adopted FPTP systems. In many of these new democracies, particularly those facing ethnic divisions, this system proved utterly inappropriate to their needs. Similarly, it has been argued that many of the former French colonies in West Africa which retained the TRS system (such as Mali) suffered damaging polarization as a result; and many post-communist regimes retain minimum turnout or majority requirements inherited from the Soviet era.
Assess the Likely Impact of Any New System on Societal Conflict
As noted at the very start of this text, electoral systems can be seen not only as mechanisms for choosing legislatures and presidents but also as a tool of conflict management within a society. Some systems, in some circumstances, will encourage parties to make inclusive appeals for support outside their own core support base. Unfortunately, it is more often the case in the world today that the presence of inappropriate electoral systems serves actually to exacerbate negative tendencies which already exist, for example, by encouraging parties to see elections as ‘zero-sum’ contests and thus to act in a hostile and exclusionary manner to anyone outside their home group. When designing any political institution, the bottom line is that, even if it does not help to reduce tensions within society, it should, at the very least, not make matters worse.
Try and Imagine Unusual or Unlikely Contingencies
Too often, electoral systems are designed to avoid the mistakes of the past, especially the immediate past. Care should be taken in doing so not to overreact and create a system that goes too far in terms of correcting previous problems. Furthermore, electoral system designers would do well to pose themselves some unusual questions to avoid embarrassment in the long run. What if nobody wins under the system proposed? Is it possible that one party could win all the seats? What if you have to award more seats than you have places in the legislature? What do you do if candidates tie? Might the system mean that, in some districts, it is better for a party supporter not to vote for their preferred party or candidate?
The mass media are essential to the conduct of democratic elections. A free and fair election is not only about casting a vote in proper conditions, but also about having adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself so that voters can make an informed choice. A democratic election with no media freedom would be a contradiction in terms.
But the paradox is that, in order to ensure that freedom, a degree of regulation is required. Government media, funded out of public money, should be required to give fair coverage and equitable access to opposition parties, for example. Media often may not be allowed to run reports – for example on exit polls or early results – before every vote has been cast.
The mass media – often referred to as just “the media” – are usually understood to refer to the printed press and to radio and television broadcasters. In recent years, the definition has perhaps become broader, encompassing the Internet in its various forms and other new forms of electronic distribution of news and entertainment, such as short message services to mobile telephones.
The prime concern is the right of voters to full and accurate information. But this is not the only right involved. Parties and candidates are entitled to use the media to get their messages across to the electorate. The media themselves have a right to report freely and to scrutinize the whole election process. This scrutiny is itself an important additional safeguard against interference or corruption in the management of the election. Finally, the electoral management body (EMB) has a crucial need to communicate information to the electorate – and to a variety of other groups, including the political parties and the media themselves.
The relationship of the EMB to the media is hence a fairly complex one. Potentially, electoral managers may stand in three distinct relations to the media:
• As regulator: the EMB may sometimes be responsible for developing or implementing regulations governing media behaviour during elections (especially relating to direct access to the media by parties and candidates). It may also be responsible for dealing with complaints against the media.
• As communicator: the EMB will also, invariably, want to use the media as a vehicle for communicating its messages to the electorate.
• As news story: the EMB will be a focus of media interest throughout the election process. The media will be interested in the information that the EMB can provide, as well as trying to scrutinize the EMB’s performance and the efficiency and integrity of the elections.