Friday, May 29, 2015

How e-voting can improve viability and visibility of minor parties

In the book titled Improving Electoral Practices: Case Studies and Practical Approaches, published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) in 2014, several fascinating perspectives are given about the democratic process in some countries around the world. These provide profound insights into how elections can be improved in all regions. A prime example of this is in the notion of improving the viability of minor parties in major elections.

Using the United States as a well-known example, the political process can feel incredibly polarizing. There may be some minor parties and independent candidates in American elections, but the conversation is dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Individual opinion and perspective is not a black-and-white issue; opinions fall on a wide spectrum and minor parties can help to better represent the near infinite shades of grey.

Also, by providing the electorate with the opportunity to support candidates and parties that more closely align with their own viewpoints, the votes are then spread out over more parties. This forces members of opposing parties to work together, forming coalition governments for the greater good of the people, rather than engaging in a more adversarial approach to politics.

In the fourth chapter of the International IDEA book, Byoung Kwon Sohn explores the political situation in Korea. Today's challenge is to enhance “the quality of democratic politics and processes” in the country, particularly in increasing the representation of women and minorities in the formal political process. It may have started with women's suffrage in other countries, but it must continue with the active participation of women in the official decision making too. This is in a country where the social status of women is largely on par with that of men.

The political reforms of 2004 smoothed the progress in increasing Korean women's representation in politics, including the first female prime minister in 2006. This built on earlier movements that began in the mid-1990s, like the efforts of the Women's Solidarity for a Quota System and other women's citizen groups.

Something that makes the Korean party system unique is the fact that the political parties are frequently shuffled, disbanded and created, even though they may consist of largely the same individuals with the same political leanings. What's more, strong region-based voting makes it difficult for minor parties to garner enough support to elect members to the National Assembly.  The old one-ballot system was replaced by a two-ballot system that allowed for more proportionate representation.

In the Improving Electoral Practices chapter about Tunisia, written by Amor Boubakri, efforts to improve inclusion of marginalized social groups are explored. Even though a newly independent Tunisia in the late 1950s was founded with universal suffrage, the “new elite” moved down a path of political exclusion. Electoral fraud ran rampant and citizens were offered a false democracy.

This eventually sparked the revolution of 2011, which then provided the opportunity for political reform. This helped to overturn the majoritarian system that had dominated the country for over five decades, providing for a more equitable representation of political parties. Where opposition parties failed to win any seats in the past, they were finally having their voice heard. Inclusion and representation of women, youth and people from marginalized regions continues to improve. 

If there is to be better representation of minor parties in democracies around the world, a valuable step to achieve it could be the modernisation of electoral processes with technology. Using touchscreen machines or electronic ballots, more parties and candidates could be more easily accommodated than with traditional paper ballots. The same can be said about online voting. When combined with citizen-led campaigns and widespread political reforms, the results of elections can better mirror the true will of the people, regardless of social status, region, gender or political leaning.