May 26, 2010
The current voting system incentivises politicians in this country to look after the interests of their constituents first (hence the “all politics is local” dictum so often trotted out), rather than the national interest, e.g. every TD agrees Ireland needs further waste facilities but no TD sticks their hand up to ask for it in their own back yard. This sort of thinking is rational from every TD\’s perspective; the alternative is to ensure they wont get voted in come the next election. It should also be said that the current system encourages voters to think locally rather than nationally too.
A full or partial list system would ensure all or some politicians (depending on the extent to which a list system is implemented) would not be dependent on the votes of local constituents. List systems are easier to explain to the extent 100% of politicians are voted in using them. They work by asking people to vote for parties, not individual politicians. Seats are divied up based on the percentage party vote, e.g. a party that wins 50% of the vote will have 83 seats in Dail Eireann (there are 166 seats). Each party, in advance of the election, ranks its candidates in the order they will get elected, from 1 through 166 (if they believe theres a chance they will win 100% of the seats!). This system is used in many countries in Continental Europe – sometimes combined with proportional representation (e.g. 50% of politicians voted in with the list system, 50% with PR) – so there is precedent for this.
The advantages are that politicians are not beholden to local interests in the same way and can therefore begin to think nationally, spend less (or no) time doing constituency work (allowing TDs to spend more time in the Dail on national issues) and not be punished for voting in the Dail for proposals in the national interest. Parties, if they wish to attract voters, will not be able to boast about fixing potholes locally, but will instead have to campaign on the basis of national vision. Politicians whose primary motivation is to assist locally (and nothing wrong with that of course) will not wish to enter national politics – instead we ought to, systemically and over time, attract national politicians with an interest in the national and international arena. Furthermore, voters will be forced to think about these issues too, having to educate themselves more on the policy differences between the parties in order to make an assessment of “good” from “bad\’. Within parties too, politicians who are either competent and/or capable of vision, will be those who get higher ranked in the list. There will be less pressure to ensure a balance of ministers from each part of the country which may or may not have something to do with meritocracy.
Hand in hand with such a system should be the strengthening of the county council system, which would then properly be the forum for local issues to be raised, and help provide balance to the more national oriented Dail.