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Costs and dangers in runoff system

Constitutional amendment conundrum...
Sunday, August 10, 2014

Douglas Mendes, SC

Under the first-past-the-post system, the candidate who obtains the largest number of the votes cast on election day is elected as the representative for the constituency in which she ran. Where the election is contested by more than two candidates, the possibility exists that the winning candidate will have received less than 50 per cent of the votes cast. This happened in 14 of the 41 constituencies in the 2007 general election, which was contested by the three major parties, the PNM, the UNC and the COP.

On the other hand, all of the winning candidates in the 2010 election received more than 50 per cent of the votes casts in their respective constituencies. This was because only two candidates from each of the major parties contested that election, the product of the accommodation arrived at between the UNC, the COP and the MSJ not to run against each other.

Under the two-round or runoff system now being proposed for insertion in the Constitution, a candidate may only be elected to a seat in the House if she receives more than 50 per cent of the votes cast. This means that if at the end of the count on election day, none of the candidates crosses the 50 per cent threshold, a fresh election would be held between the top two candidates only, guaranteeing that one of them would emerge after the second round with the required 50 per cent.