SA needs new elec­toral sys­tem

The FPTP pro­duces strong and sta­ble ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ments able to take tough de­ci­sions, writes Rich Mkhondo

The Star Late Edition - - INSIDE - Rich Mkhondo runs The Me­dia and Writ­ers Firm, a con­tent devel­op­ment and rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment hub. Part one of his elec­toral sys­tem re­form was pub­lished on Tues­day.

EACH democ­racy in the world has its own story, shaped by its own chain of events. Our sys­tem was born of an anti-apartheid revo­lu­tion de­signed to top­ple white mi­nor­ity rule.

Un­for­tu­nately, over the years our elected of­fi­cials as well as those in the pub­lic ser­vice have re­gret­tably for­got­ten the sa­cred obli­ga­tion that they are ac­count­able to the peo­ple. This has slowly re­sulted in lethargy, ne­glect of duty, per­sonal ag­gran­dis­e­ment, cor­rup­tion, crony­ism and nepo­tism.

One of the fun­da­men­tal prob­lems of this po­lit­i­cal cul­ture has been in­ci­dences of bribery and cor­rup­tion on an ever-in­creas­ing scale in all sec­tors of our pub­lic life.

If we are to re­store salu­tary cri­te­ria of moral­ity trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity and our sta­tus as a Rain­bow Na­tion, we need a new elec­toral sys­tem.

Our cur­rent Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR) has served its pur­pose and now be­longs to the dust­bin of his­tory.

Power ac­count­able to po­lit­i­cal par­ties and party faith­ful has led crony­ism and all kinds of peo­ple with­out any man­age­rial or ad­min­is­tra­tive abil­ity to get elected on the ba­sis of pop­ulist slo­gans.

Very sim­ply, our 23-year-old PR sys­tem has seen all its built-in ac­count­abil­i­ties mech­a­nisms dis­ap­pear as those in power use loop­holes to line their pock­ets and those of their cronies.

For me, elec­toral ac­count­abil­ity ex­ists when there is clar­ity of re­spon­si­bil­ity for po­lit­i­cal out­comes and vot­ers can ef­fec­tively sanc­tion those re­spon­si­ble for those out­comes. Our elec­toral sys­tem is slowly fail­ing to of­fer po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity and ac­count­abil­ity.

There are five types of elec­toral sys­tems, each one of them shaped by the coun­try’s chain of events and all trying to em­bed some ac­count­abil­i­ties. They are First-past-the-Post (FPTP), ma­jori­tar­ian (sec­ond bal­lot and the al­ter­na­tive vote), Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR) list sys­tem, the sin­gle trans­fer­able vote (STV), and the “two-vote sys­tem” PR.

In the PR sys­tem – used in most South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity coun­tries and in coun­tries such as Aus­tria, Bel­gium, Fin­land, Nether­lands, Nor­way, Rus­sia, Swe­den and Switzer­land – the party ranks the names on the list and vot­ers vote for a party, not a spe­cific can­di­date. This means we the vot­ers ef­fec­tively de­ter­mine the or­der in which the can­di­dates on the list will be awarded seats.

The sys­tem of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion en­sures that vir­tu­ally ev­ery con­stituency will have a rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the na­tional and pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tures.

But its big­gest flaw is that the elected of­fi­cials are ac­count­able to the party, not di­rectly to vot­ers. This has opened the doors for per­sonal ag­gran­dis­e­ment, cor- rup­tion crony­ism and nepo­tism and other eth­i­cal lapses and ills.

The Al­ter­na­tive Vote (AV), used in Aus­tralia and France is called pref­er­en­tial vot­ing. Here vot­ers rank can­di­dates ac­cord­ing to their pref­er­ences.

Vot­ers add up all the first choices in­di­cated on the bal­lots. If any can­di­date has gained a ma­jor­ity of those votes, that can­di­date is de­clared the win­ner. If no can­di­date gains a ma­jor­ity on the first count, then the one with the low­est num­ber of first choices is elim­i­nated from the count and their votes are re­dis­tributed on the ba­sis of the sec­ond pref­er­ences in­di­cated on the bal­lot. This process con­tin­ues un­til a sin­gle can­di­date has se­cured more than 50% of the votes.

In the Sin­gle Trans­fer­able Vote (STV) used in Ire­land and to elect se­na­tors in Aus­tralia, vot­ers rank as many can­di­dates on the bal­lot as they wish. Vot­ers rank each can­di­date on the bal­lot in or­der of pref­er­ence. If a can­di­date re­ceives a ma­jor­ity of first place bal­lots on the first count, he or she is elected.

If no sin­gle can­di­date gets more than 50% of the votes cast, the sec­ond choices for the can­di­date at the bot­tom are re­dis­tributed and the process re­peated un­til one emerges with an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity.

In the Mixed Mem­ber Pro­por­tional or “Two Vote PR sys­tem, used in Ger­many, Mex­ico, New Zealand, Scot­land and Wales, vot­ers cast two votes, one to di­rectly elect an in­di­vid­ual mem­ber to serve as their rep­re­sen­ta­tive, and a sec­ond for a party or par­ties to fill seats in the leg­is­la­ture al­lo­cated ac­cord­ing to the pro­por­tion of the vote share they re­ceive.

A sec­ond vote, which al­lo­cates seats to par­ties ac­cord­ing to the PR list, is used to com­pen­sate for any dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­sults in the FPTP con­stituency part of the elec­tion.

Ad­di­tional seats are awarded to qual­i­fy­ing par­ties where the num­ber of con­stituency seats that they won fails to re­flect voter sup­port shown in both com­po­nents of the elec­tion.

This sys­tem has worked well for Ger­many. For ex­am­ple, 299 members of par- lia­ment are elected di­rectly, in a first-past­the-post sys­tem, while 299 other seats are al­lo­cated among par­ties in pro­por­tion to the to­tal votes that the par­ties get.

In the FPTP, the win­ner takes all sys­tem, a voter casts a sin­gle vote for a can­di­date to rep­re­sent the elec­toral district in which the voter re­sides. Can­di­dates must gain a plu­ral­ity of votes to win.

The FPTP pro­duces sta­ble and strong ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ments able to take tough de­ci­sions. This is worth the sac­ri­fice of the demo­cratic prin­ci­ples of mak­ing ev­ery vote count and en­sur­ing equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for ev­ery cit­i­zen. I like this sys­tem. It pro­duces sin­gle-party ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ments, mak­ing it ob­vi­ous which party is re­spon­si­ble and ac­count­able for po­lit­i­cal out­comes.

Vot­ers can thus in­flict sig­nif­i­cant pu­n­ish­ment on those who do not per­form.

Our PR sys­tem does not per­form as well on these cri­te­ria. First, PR tends to pro­duce coali­tion gov­ern­ments, and where sev­eral par­ties con­trol gov­ern­ment it is more dif­fi­cult for citizens to ap­por­tion credit or blame for po­lit­i­cal out­comes.

Sec­ond, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween votes and seats un­der PR is nei­ther as steep as un­der plu­ral­ity rule nor so de­ter­mi­na­tive of gov­ern­ment sta­tus.

Clearly, we need an elec­toral sys­tem that trans­lates votes into seats such that few votes are wasted, and all po­lit­i­cally sig- nif­i­cant di­ver­si­ties and in­ter­ests that ex­ist in so­ci­ety are pro­por­tion­ally rep­re­sented in the leg­is­la­ture.

An elec­toral sys­tem plays an im­por­tant role in de­ter­min­ing how rep­re­sen­ta­tive and ac­count­able a gov­ern­ment is in prac­tice.

There­fore, like Ger­many, we should con­sider a com­bi­na­tion of First-Past-thePost and PR sys­tem. It’s so sim­ple it can be summed up in one sen­tence: the can­di­date who gets the most votes wins.

Let our gov­ern­ment be rep­re­sen­ta­tive and ac­count­able. It must be rep­re­sen­ta­tive with poli­cies align­ing with citizens’ in­ter­ests, and ac­count­able and an­swer­able to citizens for its con­duct and re­spon­sive to their de­mands.

We ur­gently need the formation of an elec­toral task team to in­ves­ti­gate and re­search how we can im­ple­ment this hy­brid sys­tem from the 2019 elec­tions.

The rec­om­men­da­tions of the task team should be tested in a ref­er­en­dum as the best way to re­form the way we vote.

We need sub­stan­tial change to our elec­toral sys­tem. The change must sat­isfy the pop­u­lar con­cep­tions of democ­racy, one that max­imises both rep­re­sen­ta­tion and ac­count­abil­ity.


EX­ER­CIS­ING POWER: Vot­ers queue to cast their bal­lots in Bekkers­dal, near Joburg, on May 7, 2014. The writer says South Africa’s elec­toral sys­tem needs re­form to fos­ter a sense of ac­count­abil­ity on elected lead­ers.

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