Tuesday, July 16, 2013

FDA Talking Points Series--Inclusion of Minorities

The Maori have had guaranteed representation in the New Zealand Parliament as early as 1867 through the Representation Act. (Photo source: Murray Gunn, http://murraygunn.id.au/blog/)
The Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) takes the view that legislation which encourages the inclusion of disadvantaged and under-representative minorities in electoral processes is more democratic than to not encourage the inclusion of these minorities. In a perfect electoral system, in which candidates and parties have equal opportunity and means to influence the election outcome, and the voters have equal opportunity and means to express their political points of views and vote, there would likely be no grounds for inclusion of minorities. However, electoral processes are not perfect. And even though an electoral system may have freedom of expression and assembly, not all members of the electorate have the same means to influence election outcomes, and not all candidates and parties have the same opportunities and means to influence election outcomes.

The FDA assumes that an elected assembly or parliament ought to be as representative of the people including minorities, as possible. The act of voting itself is not necessarily a reasonable way to make an assembly or parliament as representative of the people as possible. It depends on the voting system and fairness/unfairness issues in the system. If there are clear cases of disadvantaged minorities politically, then for the reasons stated above the FDA believes that these minorities ought to be given additional opportunity to get elected and/or have their issues heard by the public. The counter argument that everyone is free to vote, speak, assemble, and run as a candidates, and therefore, there is no need for special legislation for minorities, ignores societal and systematic issues which may cause political inequality and disadvantages between groups. The following may considered grounds for special legislation: a minority group which is part of the lowest income bracket of society, or a minority group which has distinct views and needs not understood by the majority of society, or a minority group due to weak historical and culture ties to democratic processes has no representation in the assembly or parliament, or a minority group which has a low population. The FDA acknowledges that a criterion for minorities needs to be established such as
  1. Does the minority group have distinct disadvantages which limit the effectiveness of its political participation?
  2. What percentage of current elected officials are from the minority?
  3. What is the population percentage of the minority compared to the total population?
  4. What percentage of current elected officials represent the views of the minority group?

Legislative Comparison


Legislative Research

Although the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has provisions for laws, programs, activity for amelioration of the conditions of disadvantaged individuals and groups, the FDA researchers found no specific provisions for disadvantaged individuals and groups in terms of federal political representation. In fact, the Charter says that everyone has the same democratic rights which are counter to idea that everyone should not have the same democratic rights (Constitution Act, 1982 Section 3).

The Canadian Constitution Act 1982 recognizes aboriginal and treaty rights, and the pledge by the federal government to include aboriginals in constitutional conference (Constitution Act, 1982, Section 35.1).

The Indian Act establishes a process to register Indians and their bands, and define the system of Indian reserves. The federal government gives registered Indians authority over the Indian reserves subject to the terms of treaties and any other Act of Parliament (Indian Act, Section 88).

The Canadian Constitution Act 1867 establishes the legislative authority of the Canadian Parliament over Indians and lands reserved for Indians (Constitution Act, 1867, Section 91(24)).

Women have minority representation in the Canadian Parliament. In 2008 women comprised 22.1 percent of the seats in the Parliament (Women in Parliament, 2010). In 2010, women comprised a majority of the Canadian population at 50.4 percent (Female Population, 2010).

In 2004 according to the Statistics Canada, visible minorities comprised 7.1 percent of all MPs elected, while visible minorities account for an estimated 14.9 percent of all Canadians (Black & Hicks, 2006).


Although the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms establishes that all Canadian citizens have equal democratic rights, there is no specific legislation to encourage the political representation of disadvantaged minorities and minorities under-represented in the Parliament, and despite evidence which supports special legislation for minorities. In addition, although Canadian women are the majority gender, they are well under-represented in the Canadian Parliament. Further, Canada's aboriginals are permitted self-governance on reserves, but this governance must adhere to the overriding authority of the Canadian Parliament (Constitution Act, 1982, Article 35).


Legislative Research

To be eligible to become an elected member of the House of Representatives, a person must be at least 25 years of age, an American citizen for the past 7 years and be a resident of the state they are seeking election in (U.S. Constitution, 2012, Section 2).

To be eligible to become a Senator, a person must be at least 30 years of age, an American citizen for the past 9 years and be a resident of the state they are seeking to represent (U.S. Constitution, 2012, Section 3).

The FDA researchers found no codified legislation that promotes the political representation of minorities or other disadvantaged groups of people (e.g. there are no affirmative action plans) in place. However, there is no legislation that seeks to suppress it.

There are currently 93 women and 444 men holding positions in Congress. There are 81 members of a visible minority group in Congress. There are 76 women and 361 men in the House of Representatives. There are 76 members of a visible minority group in the House of Representatives:
  1. African American - 43
  2. Asian - 7
  3. American Indian - 1
  4. Hispanic - 25
There are 17 female and 83 male members in the Senate. There are only 4 members of a visible minority group in the Senate (Congressional Demographics, 2012).


Similar to Canada, the United States has no legislation which encourages the political representation of disadvantaged minorities and under-represented minorities in the U.S. Congress, and despite evidence of unequal representation of ethnic groups in the Congress.


Legislative Research

Persons registered to as an electoral of a Maori electoral district may vote at polling stations for the district (Electoral Act, 1993, Article 61(2)).

Persons registered as an electoral of a Maori electoral district has the option to register as an electoral of a Maori electoral district or an elector of a General electoral district (Electoral Act, 1993, Article 76 Maori option).

Maori have distinct electoral districts for its population, including the Chatham Islands. Only persons of Maori descent can vote in these districts. The purpose of these districts is the Maori people representation in the Parliament (Electoral Act, 1993, Articles, 45, 46, 269; The Origins of the Maori Seats, 2013).

The Maori have 7 seats of 70 seats in the Parliament. The seats are determined based on the Maori population. Maori representation to the Parliament dates back to Representation Act of 1867 in which the Maori had 4 seats in the Parliament (The Origins of the Maori Seats, 2013; FDA Electoral Fairness Report on New Zealand, 2011).


The New Zealand's guaranteed seats for a historical and cultural minority in the Parliament is consistent with the FDA's standard on the inclusion of minorities.


Legislative Research

The state guarantee indigenous groups three seats in the National Assembly. The three seats from the three regions (Election Resolution No. 100304-0043, Article 8):
  1. West Region: comprised of the states of Zulia, Merida and Trujillo.
  2. South Region: comprised of the states of Amazonas and Apure.
  3. East Region: comprised of Anzoategui, Bolivar, Delta Amacuro, Monagas and Sucre.
The National Electoral Council supports development outreach and educational programs for indigenous groups relating to electoral discourse and process. The NEC translates these programs and other information materials into the distinct indigenous languages for distribution and transmission on radio and community television stations. (Election Resolution No. 100304-0043, Article 5).

Indigenous candidates must apply through their indigenous communities or organizations. In addition, the candidates must meet the following requirements (Election Resolution No. 100304-0043, Articles 142-145):
  1. Have exercised by traditional authority in their respective Community.
  2. Having established record in the social struggle for the recognition of their cultural identity.
  3. Have taken action on behalf of the people and indigenous communities or organizations.
  4. Belonging to an indigenous organization legally constituted a minimum of three (3) years of operation.

The Venezuelan state guarantees three seats in the National Assembly for indigenous groups. In addition, the National Electoral Council has a comprehensive information programs to inform and educate indigenous groups about the electoral process and upcoming elections. These mechanisms are consistent with the FDA's standard on the inclusion of minorities in the electoral process.


Black, J., & Hicks, B. (2006). Visible Minorities and Under-Representation: The Views of Candidates. Retrieved from Elections Canada http://www.elections.ca/res/eim/article_search/article.asp?id=145&lang=e&frmPageSize

Congressional Demographics. (2012). Congress.org. Retrieved from http://congress.org/congressorg/directory/demographics.tt?catid=ethnic&chamb

Constitution Act.(1867, March 29). Retrieved from the Department of Justice http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-1.html

Constitution Act.(1982, April 17). Retrieved from the Department of Justice http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html#h-38

Electoral Act. (1993). New Zealand Parliament. Retrieve from http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1993/0087/latest/DLM307519.html

Election Resolution No. 100304-0043. (2010). National Electoral Council. No. 5 Regulation of Organic Law of Elections in Safeguard of the Election Campaign Financing. Caracas. March 4, 2010.

Female Population. (2010) Statistics Canada. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11475-eng.htm

Indian Act. (1985). Retrieved from the Department of Justice: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/I-5/page-1.html

The Origins of the Maori Seats. (2013). New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/features/00NZPHomeNews201109011/the-origins-of-the-m%C4%81ori-seats

U.S. Constitution. (2012). Cornell University Law School. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/

Women in Parliament. (2010, July 14, 2010). Parliament of Canada. Retrieved from http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/lop/researchpublications/prb0562-e.htm#a2

Mr. Stephen Garvey Executive Director Foundation for Democratic Advancement

1 comment:

Thank you for sharing your perspective.