ELECTIONS (Electoral Systems)

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What is an Electoral System?

A country's electoral system is the method used to calculate the number of elected positions in government that individuals and parties are awarded after elections. In its basic form, an electoral system or voting system is how votes are translated into seats. It determines how many votes and what kinds of votes are necessary to award seats to candidates and parties in an election. Different electoral systems produce different kinds of results, and give voters different kinds of choices.

Features of Electoral Systems:

The Government of Trinidad & Tobago follows the practice of democratic government. By definition, democracy means government by people. A representative democracy would be fine if the representatives would really make all their decisions only after consulting their constituencies. In the least, after having a clear idea about the views of their constituents on a particular issue, and trying to accommodate these views as best as possible (or postpone the decisions until an overwhelming majority of the constituents would be happy with them).

A Democratic Electoral System can be said to be one where:
  • elections are regular and fair.
  • votes are of equal value.
  • the will of the majority is achieved.
  • the interests of minorities are taken into consideration.
  • there is a high level of participation by the electorate.
  • there is the maximum possible franchise.
  • voting is accessible.

Types of Electoral Systems:

  1. First Past The Post - This type of voting takes place in single-member constituencies. To vote under FPTP, the voter simply puts a cross in a box next to one candidate. The candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins. All other votes count for nothing. e.g. Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada.

  2. Proportional Representation - Proportional representation is the general name for a class of voting systems that attempt to make the percentage of offices awarded to candidates reflect as closely as possible the percentage of votes that they received in the election. It is the most widely used set of electoral systems in the world. e.g. Guyana. To understand more about PR click HERE.

Advantages & Disadvantages of FPTP and PR

What type of electoral system does Trinidad & Tobago use?

Under the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago Act of 1976, Trinidad and Tobago is a democratic Republic within the Commonwealth with its own President as titular Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Between 31 August 1962 when Trinidad and Tobago obtained its independence from Great Britain, and 24, September 1976 when the Republican constitution was enacted, the Head of State was her Majesty the Queen of England who was represented by a Governor – General.
  • The Parliament consists of a Bicameral Legislature composed of an Upper House – the Senate, and a Lower House – the House of Representatives organised according to the Westminister or first-past-the-post system (FPTP).
  • The Senate consists of 31 appointed members, 16 being appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister, 6 on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and 9 at the discretion of the President.
  • The House of Representatives consists of 41 (39 for Trinidad and 2 for Tobago) members elected by the citizens at the General Elections held every 5 years or less and a Speaker who is elected from either within or outside the House of Representatives. An Electoral College comprising all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives voting by secret ballot elects the President.
  • Executive power is vested in the Prime Minister, the leader of the majority side in the House of Representatives, who is appointed by the President, and the Cabinet.

What is the Electoral Process?

This is the process by which the population chooses an individual to hold public office. In our case (Trinidad & Tobago), that means our Members of Parliament (MP) and by extension, our Prime Minister.

Click HERE to view the steps involved in the electoral process in Trinidad & Tobago. For further reading, click HERE to view the role and operations Elections & Boundaries Commission in elections in Trinidad & Tobago.

Online Resources

Click HERE to do more reading on this subject area.

Link to the People's Partnership manifesto. Link to the manifesto of the People's National Movement.