Your resident psephologist Charles Richardson comments: “This month’s
world-wide run of elections has displayed a number of ways in which
other democracies differ from Australia. Most of them have some form of
proportional representation, ensuring that a minority of votes doesn’t
translate into a majority of seats.”

This comment is unfortunately timed. In the Norwegian election of 12
September, held according to Norway’s system of pure proportional
representation, the three-party centre-left coalition of Labor,
Socialists and Centrists won the election with 48% of the vote and 87
seats. The outgoing right-wing government and its supporters polled
48.9% of the vote but won only 81 seats.

The reason for this anomaly is that Norway combines proportional
representation with a rural malapportionment that would make Joh
Bjelke-Petersen blush. If you live in the frozen wastes of Finnmark in
the Norwegian Deep North, your vote is worth more than twice as much as the
vote of a resident of Oslo. And since the fisherfolk of Finnmark tend
to vote Labor, while the bourgeois of Olso vote liberal or
conservative, this gives the left a decisive edge.

Proportional representation usually produces a result which exactly
reflects the will of the voters, but only if it is based on electoral
areas of equal value, as Norway’s is not. It also tends to produce
deadlocked elections (like Germany’s) and legislatures in which fringe
parties exercise disproportionate power (like Israel’s). There are
things to be said in favour of proportional representation, but also
things to be said against it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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