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Friday 24 May 2019
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Letters to the Editor

New maths, Guyana style

THE EDITOR: In a recent article, Dr Vishnu Bisram stated, “Constitutional experts in the UK, around the Caribbean, and the Commonwealth are laughing at the Guyana Appeal Court ruling that a majority of 65 is 34.”

I hasten to add that not only “constitutional experts” are laughing but almost everyone familiar with basic mathematics.

Ordinary people regularly use the term “majority goes.” So if five people are voting on an issue and three are in favour, the vote is carried because “majority goes.” Not so, if we are to believe the court. According to it, you need four votes for an “absolute majority.” Ludicrous, ent?

In an affront to mathematicians, the court defines an absolute majority as “half, rounded up to a whole, and add one.” That’s how four becomes a “majority” of five. (Half of five is 2.5, rounded up to a whole becomes three and adding one gives four.)

In the relevant case, the Guyana court ruled that 34, not 33, is the majority of 65. To red-herring the issue, the court tries to make a distinction between “simple” and “absolute” majority. It claims that while 33 is a “simple” majority of 65, it is not what the court calls an “absolute” majority.

But, as Bisram points out, the Guyana constitution makes no reference to an “absolute majority.” It speaks only of “majority,” as do mathematicians.

In formal mathematics, the majority of a set of n numbers is defined as that number which appears more than n/2 times. Informally, it’s that number which appears more than half the time.

For example, in the set of five numbers {7, 8, 7, 7, 6}, 7 is a majority since it appears three times (more than half of five). However, 7 is not a majority of the six-number set {7, 8, 7, 7, 6, 8} since it does not appear more than 6/2 = three times. (In this case, there is no majority.) Put another way, three out of six is not a majority, as even the Guyana court would agree.

To test your understanding, see if you can determine which, if any, is the majority in the following?

{9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 7, 7, 8, 9}

{7, 6, 6, 7, 7, 6, 6, 8, 6}

{7, 9, 9, 7, 7, 9, 9, 8, 9, 7}

(Ans: none, 6, none)


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