The party-list conundrum

/ 08:19 PM November 08, 2012

EACH ELECTION year, which is about every 1,095 days, the Commission on Elections will be confronted with the continuing challenge of accreditation of so-called party-list candidates. And, every election year, there will be contests on the Comelec ruling, as we see happening at this time.

Why has this happened, and why will this continue to happen?


The principle of having sectoral representatives in the House started during the time of Ferdinand Marcos, when groups ostensibly left out of the conversation in Congress clamored for their voices to be heard. The need to have sectoral representatives arose from an assumption that the elected representative of a particular electoral district is unable or unwilling to represent such groups. Thus the Party-List Law.

I was a participant in various public hearings in the Senate and the House when the party-list bill was under consideration. In those hearings, I particularly noted the conceptual murkiness of the term “marginalized,” which I saw early on would be a major challenge.


Who is a marginalized group? If a marginalized group has sent a representative to the House and added its voice therein, can it still consider itself marginalized, or has it been mainstreamed?

Then, too, during those public hearings, I pushed the question further: How many groups are marginalized in our society? If, over time, all those groups are now represented under the so-called party-list system in Congress, then who, for heaven’s sake, will the elected representative of an electoral district be left to represent?

It’s time to change our Party-List Law and rethink just why our elected representatives are perceived to be unable and/or unwilling to represent those marginalized groups.

A background on the origin of the party list may be in order.

The party list is used in Germany where the two-vote system is followed. The voter can write a name of a candidate of a political party and then cast a vote for a political party which may or may not be the same party of the candidate chosen. Thus, the candidate chosen may belong to political party “A” but the second vote may be for political party “B.”

The candidate who garners the highest number of votes gets the seat. Now, the total number of votes for the political party is counted. For example, if the total number of votes for the political party is 40 percent of the total votes cast, then that political party will take 40 percent of the total number of seats in the legislature.

How do we fill up this 40 percent for a particular political party? Before the elections, the political parties submit a closed party list to their election commission. This list is an ordinal list of political party members who did not run for the various electoral districts. It is a priority listing of political party members who will sit in the legislature under the party-list system.


This electoral system is called the mixed single-member district (SMD) and proportional representation (PR) system. For a political party to obtain representation under the PR system, the political party must receive at least five seats in the SMD system. This means that the party that does not obtain at least five seats under the SMD cannot have additional seats under the PR or second-vote system.

How do we now reckon the number of seats to be allotted this political party that obtained 40 percent of the total votes cast? Under the mixed SMD/PR system, if there are 300 seats in the House, then the political party who garnered 40 percent of the total number of votes cast is entitled to 120 seats. The total number of seats obtained by the SMD will now be deducted from the total number of seats it is entitled to under the second vote, which is the party-list vote.

Let us assume that our political party successfully seated 30 members under the SMD system. We now deduct 30 seats from its total of 120 seats per the 40 percent it obtained from the party vote. Thus, this political party is now entitled to an additional 90 more seats.

The 90 members will come from the first 90 names in the closed party list, which was submitted earlier to their electoral commission. In the end, this political party would have seated 30 from the SMD system and 90 from the PR system.

The empirical evidence suggests to us that countries like Germany, Bolivia and New Zealand, among others, who use a mixed SMD/PR system, are able to accommodate the many sectoral groups in their constituencies who otherwise will not be represented.

Noting all the above, it is evident that the way we interpret the party-list system will inevitably result in the continuing conceptual conundrum that the Comelec will confront every 1,095 days (or every three years) we have an election to change ostensibly the complexion of the House.

It’s time to rethink the party-list system.

Clarita R. Carlos is a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines.

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TAGS: Clarita R. Carlos, column, Elections, marginalized groups, party-list system, politics
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