15 November 2017

"The Most Voted Party" - Reductio Ad Absurdum

ETLJB 14 November 2017 - The notion that a political party may form government even though it does not control the Legislature is controversial. Lately, in East Timor, it has become of central importance. This is because one interpretation of Article 106 of the Constitution asserts that, in the absence of a coalition that does control the Legislature by a majority of seats, the most voted party may form government even when it does not control the Legislature. This seems to be the context in which the Fretilin VII Constitutional government was installed by President Lu-Olo.

"O Primeiro-Ministro é indigitado pelo partido mais votado ou pela aliança de partidos com maioria parlamentar e nomeado pelo Presidente da República, ouvidos os partidos políticos representados no Parlamento Nacional." [Article 106(1) Constitution]

In particular, let us look briefly at the principle of reductio ab absurdum to guide us. The proposition is that the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of East Timor (aka Timor-Leste to the Lusophiles) permits the appointment of an Executive from a Legislature which it does not control. In the case of East Timor, the Government party, Fretilin (the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor) holds in alliance with the Democratic Party only 30 seats in the 65-seat Parliament following elections earlier this year. This is said to be Constitutional and it is said to follow that the Executive has been appointed in accordance with Article 106. It calls itself the VII Constitutional Government. It has coopted the Catholic Church in its quest for legitimacy and the priests of delusion, superstition and irrationality have been subservient to the political will while advancing their own influence in secular affairs.

This is because Fretilin won the most votes and was therefore "the most voted party" and entitled to form the Executive. But look what has happened in practice because it was only the slightest of votes difference between Fretilin's vote and CNRT's (National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction). A stagnant Parliament, threats of the overthrow of the government, fears of civil unrest and violence terrifying the community once again, another election, disarray in the institutions of governance.

It clearly does not work when the majority opposition parties wish to block the Government's plans and legislative agenda which has already happened once with a high probability that it will be rejected a second time thus precipitating a political and constitutional crisis. That is where Article 106 has lead. Practically, it does not function viably and threatens the civil peace imposed by the rule of law and the Constitution. A government dependent on political good will rather than control of the legislature will not last long. It will be surprising if the Alkatiri government lasts beyond the end of this year.

To return to the logical analysis of the interpretation of Article 106 that has held the day so far and apply the reductio ad absurdum conceptual framework

To remind us, reductio ab adsurdum argument is a " mode of argumentation or a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd conclusion." The fallacy is in the argument that could be reduced to absurdity -- so in essence, reductio ad absurdum is a technique to expose the fallacy.

To demonstrate, let us take a possible scenario: The rule is that the most voted party forms government even when it does not control the Legislature. There are multiple parties that win seats in a Parliamentary election. The electorate is so incohesive that no party wins more than 50% of the vote. In fact, multiple parties win substantial blocks and the Parliament is divided between these multiple parties, none of whom has won a majority and all refuse coalition on insurmountable ideological grounds. But say that 5 parties won 20-odd per cent of the Parliamentary seats and that one party held a one seat lead over all the others. It could form government because it was the most voted party. However, it has won only 20.1%.

So, a nation could be ruled by a small minority government but it can not assure its program and legislative schedule to the people via the entire Parliament. That is absurd. The Constitution is either wrong in that it does violence to the concept of democracy or the interpretation is misconceived.

Not only is the idea that a people could be ruled by a small minority that does not democratically represent the people violate civilised polities' rules of governance, it does not make logical or practical sense. But it does open the door to tyranny.

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