Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Electoral reform is long overdue

Giorgos Perdikis

By Christos Panayiotides

Recent newspaper reports indicate a commitment on the part of DISY and AKEL (the two principal parties in Cyprus) to raise the threshold for entering the House of Representatives, from the present 1.8 per cent to five per cent. The 1.8 per cent threshold is one of the lowest in the European Union.

In the United Kingdom (where no minimum is set), the one and only candidate elected at each constituency is always the person who gets most of the votes. In practice, the British system, which consistently deprives small parties from being represented in the House of Commons, has promoted the election of stable governments, able to implement their pre-election commitments. What is, perhaps, of even greater importance is the fact that this system has promoted a society that is generally admitted as being one of the most liberal and democratic societies in the world.

In Greece, the electoral threshold is set at three per cent (which means that only parties securing a minimum of three per cent nationwide can enter the Greek parliament). On top of that, the party which secures most of the votes gets a “bonus” of 50 MPs.

In contrast, the system followed in Cyprus with the 1.8 per cent low entry threshold (broadly corresponding to about 3,500 votes) allows marginal political parties to secure the election of MPs, with negative – in my opinion – consequences. I suspect that the smaller parties currently represented in parliament will disagree with my assessment that their role is a marginal one. However, the validity of this conclusion is confirmed by the fact that these parties have failed to increase their power, despite the massive publicity they get in the mass media.

The House of Representatives is not a “coffee shop” where people express their views, preferably in an entertaining fashion, and then return to their day-to-day preoccupations. The House of Representatives is (and it should be) a place for serious and responsible thinking, which itself requires an in-depth study and appreciation of the subject that constitutes the subject matter of the legislative process.

The attainment of this goal requires the existence of an appropriate infrastructure, which smaller parties do not have and it is impossible for them to secure. This handicap often leads, in practice, to the adoption of a shallow (purportedly “popular”) stand on many issues, often dragging along the larger parties. A classic example of such a mistake, with tragic consequences, was the “thunderous no” in March 2013 to the very limited “haircut” that was initially proposed for resolving the economic crisis which was confronting the country.

The raising of the electoral threshold to a percentage of (at least) five per cent will force the small parties to unite or agree to be absorbed by the larger parties, thus acquiring the infrastructure needed to play their role in a responsible fashion but also – why not? – to ultimately reach the position of governing the country.

Those parties which have no prospects of governing in the foreseeable future have an understandable tendency to behave irresponsibly, by adopting, “at no cost” seemingly “popular”, but irresponsible, positions thus derailing the political process and, by extension, the country.

It is evident that, by joining together, the smaller parties will make their presence felt, in action rather than in words. It follows that their own self-interest should support the raising of the electoral threshold. Unless, of course, their sole objective is to provide a podium for their leaders. If that is the case, they deserve being thrown into the eternal inferno.

Christos Panayiotides is a retired certified public accountant

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