Do We Already Have a Winner? Really?
By J. Ngoriakl
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Some people, constituents and voters of Koror, have shared their concerns and confusion with me regarding the recent effort to stop the Koror State Runoff Election. It has been in the news and talked about on Palau Wave radio station. I’ll try to clear up some of the confusion.
First of, some background: I’m a Civics teacher and my job is to explain the structure and processes of government and democracy to a group of high school students. Some disclosure: I am a committee member of #TeamFranco Campaign; however, I will try to be as objective as possible and look at things from a citizen’s perspective. Anyways, let’s begin.
The publicized letter and other documents that I’ve seen, ask that the Election Commission and candidate Franco Gibbons refrain from taking part in the Runoff Election because, they argue, that Runoff is not in the Koror State Constitution and therefore, unconstitutional. The reader should know that constitutional issues are up to the court to decide as the sole interpreter of the constitution. Thus, this is just an analysis and hopefully, just hopefully, we won’t get into a long legal battle.
First, it’s important to understand what a constitution is as a document. It is a plan of government that is not intended to be specific because it’s supposed to be broad enough to cover generations of people over the span of hundreds of years. Of course, if a society revolts and decides to rebuild, it would then rewrite its constitution or decide not to have one at all. For now, we live by the rules set forth by a national constitution as well as state constitutions (note: they cannot override the national one).
Because a constitution is not supposed to be specific, we have legislatures that need to fill the grey areas of the constitution with laws (acts) that are specific and detailed. In this matter, while the Koror State Constitution states: “The Governor shall be elected at the next general state election,” it is the state legislature that decides the terms and details of the election. So in the case for Koror, its law, specifically, KSL No K6–123–2001, dictates that:
…[A] candidate for the Governor shall be elected if such candidate receives a majority of the votes cast in the election. In the event that no candidate for Governor receives a majority of the votes cast in the general election, then a run-off election shall be conducted…
It then goes on to state the details of the run-off election.
The key word in the above KSL law is majority. Those who are challenging this law and want Rudimch declared winner of the November 14th Koror State Election rest their argument on the usage of the word. My question is, what is the end game behind this vexatious effort to derail the Runoff Election? Is it a ploy to confuse the voters or is it a more sinister effort to win without going through the fair process of democracy? But let’s get to the heart of their argument.
Let us examine the meaning of the word majority as well as the political context and usage of the word as a specific type of election.
Dictionaries define majority as the greater part of a number; the number larger than half of the total. In the context of elections, a majority voting system refers to a system where the winner has half of the total votes plus one more vote. This is different to a plurality voting system where a winner is determined by the greatest number of votes without necessarily being more than half of the total votes. Plurality is basically a popular vote contest and so the winner is simply the one with the most votes.
The two voting systems differ in that in a majority system, a leader is elected with the backing of at least half (plus one more person) of the population versus a minority — 1/3 in this case of 2017 Koror State election. In other words, in a plurality voting system, we would already have a clear winner even though he received roughly 1/3 of the total votes. But, our constitutional framers chose a majority voting system perhaps because they didn’t like the idea of a minority dictating who becomes the head of state, rendering a minority of the the voters, about 2/3, nullified and unheard.
Therefore, if Koror State law states that, “a candidate for the Governor shall be elected if such candidate receives the most votes cast in the election,” or something to that effect without explicitly using the word “majority,” then it is talking about the other type of election used in other democracies — a plurality election; this would have made Eyos Rudimch the clear winner of this year’s election, however, this is clearly not the case.
My point is, our constitutional framers were not confused or incompetent when they wrote our Constitutions, rather, they understood clearly the ideas of the U.S.-based democracy and used the word majority correctly and contextually in reference to a specific type of election.
But let’s say for the sake of argument, we entertain the idea that the runoff election is unconstitutional because it’s not in the constitution, would we then say that every President elected through the process of a Primary Election along with a General Election is unconstitutional and therefore invalid because the national Constitution does not mention a Primary Election? Therefore, is our sitting President invalid and unconstitutional?
The gist of the matter is, it is not the task of a constitution to be specific, it only lays the foundational ideas and the details are up to the legislature. Those details are made official laws as acts which is the case for Koror. This latest effort has gone too far and outright games the system of democracy that we’ve set up as a people and the rules we abide with. Moreover, it would definitely open a legal can of worms.
Compare & Contrast the Palau Constitution passage on electing the President to the Koror State Constitution passage on electing the Governor.
1.) From Article VIII of the Palau Constitution:
2.) From Article VII of the Koror State Constitution: