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Gary Younge
PR quirks tangle May poll

Welsh secretary Alun Michael today branded the additional member voting system `a little bit like a bingo game'. His predecessor Ron Davies described voting as 'something of an ordeal' - this from a man who, post-Clapham Common, knows something of ordeals.

Not that the new system has nothing to recommend it. Parties are no longer encouraged to concentrate their resources on a few marginals, but can spread their energies into every electoral nook and cranny they can find.

Gone are the concepts of wasted votes and no-win constituencies; gone also is the scenario of a party winning a minority of the votes and bagging a huge majority of the seats, as has been the case in the UK for much of the post war period.

In its place comes cross-party dialogue and debate, thanks to a two-vote system in both Scotland and Wales. This will be instrumental in ushering in more women and giving more people more opportunity to follow their political consciences, rather than bow to expediency.

The trouble is that while the voters may get what they want at the polls, there seems little likelihood that their desires will be reflected in parliament. Take Scotland. The vast majority of Scots, according to the polls, would like to see a Labour/Scottish Nationalist Party coalition - a social democratic programme on a similar course to London, informed by an outlook which is both independent of the rest of Britain and of Millbank.

That is almost certainly not what they are going to get. The SNP's commitment to fully-blown independence and Labour's watered-down socialist credentials are far more likely to throw Scotland's Labour leader, Donald Dewar, into the arms of Jim Wallace, the leader of the Scottish Liberals. A system which was supposed to put more power into the hands of the voters may actually end up leaving the final decision to power brokers among the party hierarchies.

In Wales the situation is even more bizarre. Thanks to the vagaries of the top-up system for the second vote, the favourite to lead the Welsh assembly, Labour's Alun Michael, must pray that his party loses the marginal Carmarthen East and Dinefwr to the Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru. Similarly, if Plaid loses the seat on the first vote it will get an extra top-up member.

A system that was billed as offering a "what you vote for is what you get" deal to the electorate has produced a baffling anomaly. A constituency where everyone gets to vote for who they want, but that none of the major parties really wants to win. There is, it seems, much more to expanding democracy than changing what happens to a tick in a box.

Useful links:News Unlimited's elections coverageDevolution in ScotlandDevolution in WalesHow does the PR system work?Scotsman's election site

Lima lecher

Let it not be said that the Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, would never take a position on issues concerning women. After the country's public ministry forbade women employees to wear miniskirts or tight trousers, Fujimori made his views on the issue very clear.

`I am in favour of the miniskirt, even overdoing it a little to become a mini-miniskirt,' he said.

From the man who said his ideal woman was intelligent but 'with good legs', leader of the country whose legislators proposed an `anti-lust' bill to ban women from wearing short dresses to work, this is possibly as developed as it gets when it comes to women's rights.

We look forward to seeing the 60-year-old premier in a pair of tight cycling shorts; perhaps he too can overdo it and make them tight-tight cycling shorts.

Useful linkMinifalda ganó batalla a la prohibición - La Republica of Peru

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The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream
book review
“The speech is profoundly and willfully misunderstood,” says King’s longtime friend Vincent Harding.
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