The New Rules of the Game: Electoral System in the Bangsamoro

By Ralph Chester D. Retamal
Researcher, Access Bangsamoro
25 August 2020

Last July 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act (RA) No. 11054, commonly known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), effectively replacing the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the new Bangsamoro region (Corrales, 2018).  The law is a product of decades-long peace negotiations between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The BOL introduces a new government and electoral system which has the potential to bring long-standing peace to the region. 

Established in 1989, the now-defunct ARMM has a unitary form of government headed by the regional governor and vice-governor. The voters directly elect these two officials. A Cabinet and an advisory council support the governor. Meanwhile, the legislative power is vested in the regional legislative assembly composed of 24 members elected separately by the people (Marcelo, 2018).

Contrary to this, the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is a parliamentary-democratic government. With this, the executive and legislative bodies are intertwined and closely related. The BARMM Parliament will be composed of 80 members elected by the voters. Among the members of parliament, a chief minister and two deputy chief ministers shall be elected. The chief minister shall appoint members of his Cabinet that will carry out the executive function (Marcelo, 2018).

The BARMM Parliament
The seats in the 80-member Bangsamoro parliament are classified into three: party representatives, parliamentary district seats, and reserved seats, and sectoral representatives.

As stipulated in RA 11054, 50% of the seats (or 40 seats out of 80) are allocated to representatives of political parties. A group can enter the elections upon registering as a political party with the Bangsamoro Electoral Office. The Bangsamoro Electoral Code will further enumerate the qualifications for political parties. The number of votes garnered by a party will determine the number of seats it receives using a proportional rule (Republic Act No. 11054, 2018).

Aside from party representatives, 40% of the seats (or 32 seats out of 80) will be elected from the region’s “single-member parliamentary districts.” The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) shall decide the distribution of the district seats for the first parliamentary elections. After the first elections, the Parliament has the power to reorganize the legislative districts in the region. Unlike the proportional representation (PR) system in the election of party representatives, district representatives will be directly elected by the voters in a district, and the winner will be determined by a simple plurality rule (or first-past-the-post system) (Republic Act No. 11054, 2018).

Lastly, the remaining 10% of seats (or 8 seats out of 80) will be allocated to the reserved seats and sectoral representatives. There will be two (2) reserved seats each for non-Moro indigenous peoples and settler communities. Non-Moro indigenous peoples include the Teduray, Lambangian, Dulangan Manobo, B’laan, and Higaonon, among others. The remaining four (4) seats are for sectoral representatives. Traditional leaders, youth, women, and the Ulama will each have one (1) sectoral representative. The Parliament has the authority to establish rules governing the election of the reserved seats and sectoral representatives. However, similar to the district representatives, the BTA will determine the allotment of seats in the first elections (Republic Act No. 11054, 2018).

Electoral Systems
According to Heywood (2013), “an electoral system is a set of rules that governs the conduct of elections.” Meanwhile, in the book “Strong Patronage, Weak Parties: The Case for Electoral System Redesign in the Philippines,” Hutchcroft offered a more technical definition of electoral systems as “the formulas used to convert votes to seats.” Other than that, the electoral system pertains to “other specific arrangements that shape political outcomes.” Some examples of this are the allocation of seats per district and how the top executives (e.g., president and vice president) are elected (The Asia Foundation, 2019).

The electoral system outlined in the BOL is a mixed electoral system as it utilizes two different types of electoral systems. Under this system, a percentage of the parliament is elected through a PR system. Meanwhile, the remainder of the members is selected based on majoritarian or plurality voting. The use of a mixed electoral system is an attempt to combine the advantages of PR and majoritarian systems (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005).

All PR systems “consciously reduce the disparity between a party’s share of the national vote and its share of the parliamentary seats” (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005). This system awards seats to parties depending on the level of public support a party has, as reflected in the votes they garner. A more popular party will get more seats. However, parties that have a relatively low number of votes can still win seats, albeit less. Contrary to majoritarian systems, only the winner of a race is awarded a seat—no seats awarded to runner-up candidates.

The simplest form of PR is the List PR. This system works with each party competing in the elections submitting a list of candidates in each multi-member electoral district. In some polls, the whole country represents one multi-member district (e.g., the Netherlands and Israel). Meanwhile, in others, electoral districts are based on subnational divisions such as provinces (e.g., Argentina and Portugal). During the elections, voters choose a party. The number of seats a party will be given is proportional to the votes they receive. The winning candidates that will fill in those seats are based on the order of the candidates in the list submitted by the party. For example, if a party wins five seats, then the first five candidates in the party’s list of candidates will take office. This system is a closed list system. However, in open-list PR systems, the voters can also impact the winning candidates as they can vote for the party and the candidate as well (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005).

The closed-list PR system is used in the Philippines’ party-list elections. Under this system, voters can vote for one party-list group. The winning party-list groups will be filling up 20% of the seats in the House of Representatives. A group can have a maximum of three seats. Party-list groups that garner at least 2% of the total votes are automatically allotted one seat. Meanwhile, for groups that receive more than 2% of the votes, a formula will be used to determine the number of additional seats the group is entitled to. Lastly, the remaining seats will be distributed to the other parties who failed to secure a seat following their ranking in the elections (Delizo, 2019). The Philippine party-list system is just one of many variants of PR used in the world.

The Parallel System
The Bangsamoro Parliament will use a type of mixed electoral system called the parallel voting, also referred to as the mixed-member majoritarian. This system utilizes both PR and plurality system. However, unlike the mixed-member proportional representation system, parallel systems do not compensate for any disproportionality in the district representative elections. This means that the PR elections and district elections are distinct from each other and the results of one election do not affect the other. The parallel electoral system is employed in Japan, South Korea, Russia, and Seychelles. This is also the system used in the Philippines’ House of Representatives where 80% of the seats are allocated to district representatives elected using plurality while the remaining 20% is reserved for party lists elected using a PR system (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005).

The division between the number of seats allocated to the PR system and the single-member plurality system varies greatly. In Russia, Ukraine, and Andorra, the seats are divided equally (50% for PR and 50% for single-member plurality). Meanwhile, in South Korea, 81% of the 299 seats are reserved for single-member district representatives, while only 56 seats are for the party-list system. Contrary to this, in Timor-Leste, 75 members are elected proportionally while only 13 members are elected using the first-past-the-post system. While these extremes exist, most of the parallel systems used are more balanced (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005). As mentioned earlier, in BARMM, 40 seats are allotted for the party representatives, while 32 are for the district representatives.

The parallel system is actualized in BARMM by giving the electorate two automatic votes: one vote for a political party of their choice which uses a PR system and one vote for the district representative, which uses plurality voting. However, depending on the provisions of the Bangsamoro Electoral Code that will be passed, some voters may even have three votes as they can also vote for the reserved seats and sectoral representatives. For example, indigenous peoples can vote for a political party, district representative, and reserved seat candidate.

Compared to other electoral systems, parallel systems can cater to small minority parties that may find it hard to compete in the single-member districts. Aside from that, parallel systems are also less prone to fragmentation compared to a pure PR system (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005).

The Need for Representation
The most significant disadvantage of purely majoritarian or plurality electoral systems (like that of used in ARMM) is the limited representation it allows. This system effectively misrepresents the collective popular choices of the voters as representation is not equal to electoral strength (Heywood, 2013). For example, under a two-party majoritarian system, a party can win 49% of the votes in all of the districts, but the party will still not be given any seats even though they won a huge percentage of the votes. Consequentially, the votes of the 49% are disregarded as it is a winner-takes-all system. This effect is more apparent when small parties that have distributed geographical support are examined.

The PR system solves this particular problem as it allows more parties to be represented in the assembly. Using the example above, a party that garners 49% votes would approximately be given 49% of the seats in a PR system. The main strength of the PR system lies in its ability to produce a more representative legislature and avoid electoral anomalies. In an attempt to address deep divisions in society, many new democracies have chosen a variant of the PR system as the involvement of all significant groups is a crucial factor for the political system to function (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005).

While the BARMM parliament is not purely PR, the partial introduction of PR to the electoral system has the potential to address conflict through proper representation. In a diverse region such as the Bangsamoro, the parallel system is more appropriate compared to the single-member plurality system used in ARMM. The adoption of the parallel system, together with the provision for reserved seats and sectoral representatives, is a step in the right direction.

In institutional design, the choice of electoral system is one of the most important considerations for a democracy. This is because electoral systems have an immense effect on the politics of a territory. Moreover, observers have noted that electoral systems are the easiest political institution to exploit. As electoral systems define how votes are translated to seats, it effectively selects which parties and candidates can have an advantage during the elections. Due to this, electoral systems have the power to aggravate on-going conflicts in society. In a similar vein, it can also assuage negative sentiments among different groups (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2005). For a region that has witnessed conflicts for decades, the electoral system is undoubtedly an important consideration. As the Bangsamoro Electoral Code has still not been finalized, it is necessary that citizens, political groups, and civil society organizations actively participate in its drafting as it can dictate the success of the BOL and long-term peace in the region.


Ralph Chester D. Retamal is a Researcher of Access Bangsamoro. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Access Bangsamoro, its proponents, or affiliates.



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