The arguments for and against Britain adopting a form of Proportional Representation for General Elections.

The supporters of Proportional Representation for General Elections claim that it is fairer to ethnic, religious and racial minorities compared to other systems. This is generally true. Studies conducted on continental European democracies support this view. Another advantage of this system is that it gives incentives for runners-up in elections, who traditionally ended up at the wrong end of a zero-sum game. In this regard it provides a fairer playing field compared to Majority and Plurality systems of elections. Several factors contribute towards making Proportional Representation a better alternative when electoral competition takes place under majority rule than when it does under plurality. Firstly, the voter is empowered to vote strategically, which is not always possible in other alternative systems. It is supported by the fact that,

“In top-two majority runoff elections with three or more candidates, voters always face incentives to vote strategically, but that as a practical matter voters under runoff rules do not vote strategically very often, because it requires more complex information, and yet that there are situations when strategic voting in top-two runoffs seems a plausible bet”. (Blais, Dobrzynska, and Indridason 2005, p.185)

In contrast, under plurality rule strategic voting requires relatively little information, that is, the voter only has to determine which two parties have the most support. Under the majority run-off, the voter must in addition form expectations about the identity of the third runner-up, and also about how the voters of the unsuccessful candidates will split their votes between the front-runners. In today’s world of extensive polling these may not seem prohibitive requirements. However, in these contemporary times, it is safe to assume that far more guess-work is required. Also, it gives the voters more choices. Voters are empowered to make their votes count and strategize their voting. Proportional Representation system eliminates the current first-past-the-post system, where winner-takes-all situation exists. In any multi-party system of democracy, Proportional Representation is more suitable. It is worth noting that baring a few exceptions, most democracies are multiparty systems involving two rounds of elections – the second being a run-off election. (Blais, Dobrzynska, and Indridason 2005, p.185)

On the other hand, some analysts think that Proportional Representation makes the voting process very complicated and allows the formation of coalition governments. There are studies showing greater cases of governmental corruption in countries where coalition governments are in power. Also, parties within the coalition tend to compete among themselves instead of concentrating on the welfare of their electorate. Another disadvantage is that parties tend not to take controversial positions so as to garner most votes. This results in parties not standing for any firm principles. So the voter is presented with no apparent choice when all parties stand more or less for the same ideologies or lack thereof. Compared to Majority and Plurality systems of elections Proportional Representation burdens the voter with additional analytical information to be borne as a result of the complex nature of the system. A significant disadvantage attributed to Proportional Representation is that it is increasingly difficult to implement in larger democracies with big populations. (Powell, Bingham, and Vanberg 2000 p.383)

References:

Blais, Andre., Dobrzynska, Agnieszka., and Indridason, I.H. (January 2005) “To adopt or not to adopt proportional representation: the politics of institutional choice.(study covers the period from 1865 to 1939).” British Journal of Political Science.Vol.35.1. p:182(9).

Fekete, Liz. (April 1999) “Why we should say no to proportional representation.(United Kingdom).” Race and Class Vol.40.4.: p 74(1).

Johnson, Nevil. (January 1998). “The judicial dimension in British politics.(Special Issue on Britain in the Nineties: The Politics of Paradox).” West European Politics. Vol.21.n1. p:148(19).

Oliver, Dawn. (October 1994). “Parliament, Ministers and the law. (British Government and Politics Since 1945: Changes in Perspective).” Parliamentary Affairs Vol.47.n4. p:630(17).