Friday, July 9, 2010

Alternative method of running by-elections

It seems that a large part of the problem with by-elections is that by their nature they go against the principle of proportionality that we like in our politics in Ireland. PR-STV is all well and good when there are loads of seats, but with only a single seat like in by-elections or presidential elections it degenerates into the AV system currently being proposed in the UK. Of course, with only one seat, you can't come up with a proportional election short of electing body parts instead of complete humans.

Is there a reason for holding by-elections at all? At general elections we elect TDs to represent our constituencies roughly in line with the wishes of the electorate. Sometimes quirks of PR-STV throw up odd results but by and large at least on of the group of TDs will represent the party preference of most of the votes cast. Therefore it can be argued that any casual vacancy should be filled by co-option to retain the same party representation. This system operates at City/County Council level and for the EU parliament and seems to function fairly well.

The more radical solution is to start from the premise that we elect TDs as a representative set. Therefore if one goes, they should all go and a full election for the constituency should be run again. This would allow for a change in personnel within parties as well as a change of party strength within the constituency reflecting the whims of the voters. Unfortunately this system would just result in even more parish-pump activity from TDs as there would be an increased chance of being booted from office for dealing with national rather than local issues.

Looking at the three outstanding by-elections under the radical solution you could face the following situation
  • Donegal South West - McGinley and Doherty safely elected with Coughlan facing a challenge from a returning Gallagher. Having the T├ínaiste losing her seat would be a huge embarrassment for the government.
  • Waterford - Deasy, O'Shea and one FF seat would be returned. The final seat would be a big scrap between the second FG and Halligan (WP/Ind/PBP depending on the day of the week).
  • Dublin South - this could go anywhere. Two FG, 1 Lab and 1 FF seems likely but after that the final seat is wide open. On the previous by-election figures you'd say FG should get a third, recent opinion polls suggest a second Labour but Eamon Ryan could hang on. There is also an outside chance of a second FF depending on candidate selection.

Regardless of the method used, timing of by-elections should be regulated by either legislation or in the constitution. It is now over a year since the European elections and 4-5 months since the resignations of Lee and Cullen. It is a disgrace that the government can hold the people in contempt for this length of time.

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