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First past the post

By the time this article reaches readers, the silly season would be officially over and all politicians would have returned to their various abodes until the next five years when it will start all over again.

However, this week has been plagued with friends trying to influence friends and neighbours trying to pressure neighbours not only about who to vote for, but to perform the actual deed itself.

I overheard some who could not make a decision and loudly produced sighs followed by phrases like “I am between a rock and a hard place”, or “There is no difference between them”. I was not left out, several colleagues and friends from far and near who supported one party or the other, tried their best to find out my political persuasion or to persuade me in some form or fashion.

It was also the first time that my niece was performing this function so she was overly excited. She asked lots of questions which I tried to answer and some I had to research, and then it occurred to me that many young people do not know anything about our electoral system. The article this week is about the “first past the post” electoral system.

In my search for information about the “first past the post” electoral system, I came across an article on the BBC website that explained it fairly well. According to the writer (whose name was not mentioned) it is a simple system where a constituency is represented by a single Member of Parliament.

This individual becomes a member when he/she gains more votes than the rival during the election process. There are no particular restrictions or requirements to become a candidate and at times it is only who their branch of the party selected to contest the seat.

In most cases, the candidate is a member of one of the parties who are contesting in the elections. However, there are times when some third parties emerge or some individuals elect to compete as independent contestants, which means that they do not belong to any of the popular parties.

In Barbados the arm of the government called the Electoral and Boundaries Commission is mandated to determine how the sections (constituencies) are arranged. This department is also responsible for making sure that citizens are made aware of the location of the polling station where they are supposed to vote by mailing circulars to their homes.

For the most part, each of the major parties has branch offices that are located in each constituency. Here is where the candidate or Member of Parliament meets with supporters on a regular basis to determine strategy. Each citizen can also join a particular party to whom they often show loyal support both monetary and otherwise.

On the day of elections each eligible voter (persons 18 years or over) is free to cast a vote on a single ballot between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The ballot is a piece of paper that has the names of the candidates written on one side of a set of squares while the space obliquely opposite the name of the person is where the “X” should be placed. I was unable to find research about the origins of placing the “X” but I presume that it could have been implemented to accommodate those who can and cannot write alike as it is most unidentifiable.

After everyone has voted, the ballot boxes are locked and under custodial arrangements until taken to a designated polling station where officials of both parties are present and the returning officer (the person in charge) will preside over and signal the start and end of the of the counting process.

This official is also responsible for announcing the winner or the individual who first past the post. After all the winners are made public, the party with the most elected members (most seats) will form the government.

However, like every method the first past the post system has its strengths and weaknesses. For instance, this system is very simplistic and by using the individual who gets the most votes reduces confusion between candidates. This method also enables a speedy count and clear winners to be realised so that the results are relayed to the waiting citizens as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, no electoral system is perfect. There is the problem where an MP can be elected without the majority of eligible voters casting a vote. What this means is that the individuals they represent do not actually want them and this could be very deflating to those fragile egos that we know are out there.

It is also possible that a party could win most of the seats with only a minority of the voters participating in the entire process.

In addition, since there is no criterion for being a candidate, they are those constituencies that support any one with or without intelligence as long as they represent a particular party. Moreover, it is possible for the candidate who first past the post to neglect the few in the constituency who supported him/her since they were not in the majority although the results may have been very close.

Finally, although there are strengths and weaknesses to our electoral system, we can boast of high levels of civility and ethical behaviour during this process. Even though, some are trying to introduce the use of colours to delineate or create levels of animosity among supporters of political parties.

I must add at this point that Barbadians are unique, in that they are often some homes that are divided (split down the middle) when it comes to the support of political parties but yet live in harmony with each other.

So to those who are pushing colours as a form of causing civil strife, that is not our tradition so please send it back where it came from because a colour makes no difference when people are making the decision to vote. Until next time….

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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